Taking a Stand (Literally) Against Sedentary Lifestyle Habits
What do Thomas Jefferson, Winston Churchill, Virginia Woolf and Ernest Hemingway have in common? All of them used standing desks. It’s hard to believe since the concept of working while standing up (particularly in business or administrative occupations) seems rather new. The idea of standing rather than sitting at a desk was first advocated around 1700 by an Italian doctor, Bernardino Ramazzini, who is the father of occupational medicine. He described the ill effects of too much sitting at work, and advised people to stand to stimulate blood flow.
Research shows that long periods of sitting over an extended period of time can be as dangerous a health risk as smoking. Excessive sitting impacts the metabolic system and is a key factor in developing serious health problems. Canadian researcher, Dr. Peter Katzmarzyk, found that people who sat most of the time had about a 30% higher risk of early death than those who stood most of the time. This sedentary lifestyle is also called “sitting disease”.
What Are the Long-Term Effects of “Sitting Disease” on the Body?
Endocrinologist James Levine, M.D., Ph.D., researched sitting disease for more than 30 years and wrote in his book, Get Up! Why Your Chair Is Killing You And What You Can Do About It, that there are 34 conditions associated with excessive sitting, including:
- Heart problems precipitated by high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, angina, stroke and heart attack.
- Obesity related problems including osteoarthritis, diabetes, kidney disease, heart disease, and hypertension.
- Limb and muscular issues, including loss of flexibility, numbness, swelling, loss of muscle mass, carpal tunnel syndrome and tendinitis.
- Posture problems, which can include chronic pain in the neck, shoulders, back and hands.
Making a Change from Sedentary to Healthy and Active Living
You might want to start with a personal activity log, recording periods of time sitting (at work and in leisure time) and duration of standing and walking activities. After a couple of days, you should be able to see where your inactivity problems lie.
Make a list of ways that you could substitute activity for the easier option, inactivity. Some ideas for healthy changes would be taking the stairs instead of the elevator, walking to a co-workers desk rather than emailing or calling, parking your car at the far end of the parking lot, or even biking or walking to work.
Set your alarm to remind you to take ten minutes each hour of sitting at your desk to stand up, stretch and walk around. Sometimes setting an alert in your calendar or smartphone is the best way to train healthy new habits, and make them part of your routine. You may also consider getting a sit/stand convertible desktop for home or the office, to help you achieve the optimal circulatory benefit, by alternating sitting and standing.
A healthy diet and regular exercise are essential to combat a sedentary lifestyle. Taking brisk walks, swimming, jogging, exercising for 30 minutes at least three times a week are great for your health, but not enough to offset being sedentary the rest of the day. According to Dr. Levine, you still need to move for at least 10 minutes every hour. This is especially true for retirees who want to “lead a zestful, purposeful existence after a life of hard work.”
Make a stand (literally) for health and wellness by finding more ways to stay on your feet throughout the day. Your mood, circulation and overall energy level can improve, while you reduce your risk of chronic health conditions because of sedentary habits. Just remember to keep moving!