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4 Ways to Counter the Toxic Effects of Sitting All Day

It’s no secret that sitting all day is damaging to your body in myriad ways.

It increases insulin resistance, putting you at risk of unhealthy weight gain, Type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.

It’s devastating to your muscles, and cervical and lumbar spine mobility.

And it can compromise your job satisfaction, energy levels, and emotional health.

If you’re at risk of one or all of the above, courtesy of your desk-bound job, then studies suggest you should stand up.

Stand Up

Standing lowers your risk of weight gain, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, reduces back pain, improves mood and energy levels, boosts productivity, and ultimately helps you live longer.

One US study found that reducing sitting time to three hours a day would raise the average American’s life expectancy by two years.

Standing desks have become more widespread in recent years, as the wellness craze continues to permeate the psyche of the contemporary white-collar worker.

But before you ditch your chair, a 2017 Curtin University study found that prolonged standing may have health and productivity impacts. “After working on computers at standing desks for two hours, study participants reported ‘discomfort’, ‘muscle fatigue’ and ‘lower limb swelling”.

Alex Hutchinson, author of Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance (who I interviewed here), says that standing all day is twice as bad as sitting for your heart … which runs counter to ‘sitting is the new smoking’.

So, what on earth are we supposed to do, then?

Consider the following.

1. Sit-Stand

Rather than sit or stand all day, a growing body of evidence suggests we should alternate between sitting and standing. Consider investing in one of the many standing desks from StandDesk.


In addition, incorporate short bursts of physical activity throughout your days, rather than just at the start or end of it — the latter a common practice in most western cultures. One study found that participants who sat for more than seven hours a day and had less than 150 minutes of physical activity a week demonstrated reduced thoracic spine mobility.

2. Walk More

Experimental studies have shown that breaking prolonged sitting with regular bouts of light walking improves insulin sensitivity. People who walk for just two minutes every hour, have a 33 per cent lower risk of premature death than sedentary peers, according to a 2015 study published in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology.

If you’re feeling really game, people such as XPRIZE founder Peter Diamandis, fitness guru Ben Greenfield, and author Gretchen Rubin all swear by the treadmill desk.

3. Sit Ergonomically

Early evidence suggests that ergonomic chair intervention supports the role of a chair intervention to reduce musculoskeletal symptoms among workers who are required to sit for prolonged periods. Find a range of ergonomic chairs here.

4. Stretch

Stretching keeps the muscles flexible, strong, and healthy, and we need that flexibility to maintain a range of motion in the joints. David Nolan, physical therapist at Massachusetts General Hospital., says that the areas critical for mobility are in your lower extremities: your calves, your hamstrings, your hip flexors in the pelvis, and quadriceps in the front of the thigh.

Consider joining a yoga or pilates class, doing physical therapy, joining a mobility class at the gym, or simply check out some stretching videos on YouTube, especially thoracic and lumbar spine and hip flexor stretches, and incorporate more bending into your day.

Final Thoughts

Like most things in life, prevention is easier than cure, and for those of you on this side of 30, maintaining your mobility — as well as your cardiovascular health — is critical to living not only a long life, but a healthy and full life too.