By now you have heard about numerous studies hitting national news about the health risks of sitting for long hours at a time at work or at home. If you have not, here is one, sitting at work for hours can be as unhealthy as smoking. The comparison is that sitting for periods (8+ hours a day) without a break is as bad for our bodies as smoking a pack of cigarettes. The concern is primarily developing blood clots and reduced blood flow to extremities;however, there are other health concerns as stake as well like increased risk of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, cancer and even taking years off your life. The research that surprised me the most was that this prolonged sitting can even trump the exercise we do make time for in our lives, and that should be concerning to all of us.
With the variety of technology options out there, our time is being gobbled up and our bodies are moving less and less. This is counter productive to how we are made, to MOVE! How many times have you walked into a public place and everyone you meet is looking down at their cell phone totally absorbed moving or not. I admit I am guilty of missing moments of face to face contact because I am tuned into technology and out of the world around me. In particular, our workplaces often have us sitting for long hours at a time without break focused on a project or conference call. Our society lives “plugged in” to electronics for long hours sitting down. Part of the solution is becoming more aware of this and making a conscious effort to stay in the moment.
A few weeks ago, the Denver Journal published an article that made several suggestions on how to counter balance the trend of prolonged sitting at work/home. This article points to other research that suggest that even small breaks built into a day can reverse the damage of sitting through the day. I support their advice and add my own two cents! The article points out that after just one hour of sitting, normal blood flow becomes impaired by as much as 50%. The solution recommended is a 5 minute break every hour to counterbalance this effect. Now I know, like many of you, that when I am focused often an hour can go by in a blink and I’ve missed this opportunity. It is a great practice to not only stand once you realize it has been at least an hour, but to do some deep breathing exercises to get the blood flow and oxygen moving at a rapid pace for a short period.
Another solution is to purchase a stand for your monitor, like this, that allows you to alternate standing and sitting at your computer (just one example of many out there in many price ranges). This not only allows for increased blood flow, but keeps your rear quarters from falling asleep. These are relatively easy to install on any work surface.
A different solution is to bring a large exercise ball into work to sit on during some of your time in front of you desk. Sitting on the ball accomplishes several things, it allows your hips to correctly align with your spine. It also keeps your feet and hips moving since it is a round object itself. Make sure you find the correct sized ball for your desk surface, one that allows your legs to maintain an 90 degree angle when sitting. It even allows for hip circles when you are sitting still not to mention making you feel a bit like a kid again. If stability is a concern, look for the ball chair for sale. Here is an example of a Fit Ball Chair. The prices range from $75-$100 and still allow for movement and for your hips to align correctly with your spine while sitting.
Of course, being mindful of exercise habits and eating habits will also benefit you when you are looking at a day ahead filled with meetings and uninterrupted time in front of a screen. Maintaining a healthy weight by eating the right mix of macro-nutrients at the right times and finding ways to move several times during the day is a surefire way to beat the odds.