Seven Ways to Combat Sitting at Work

Most adults spend too much time sitting, shortening their life span and increasing their risk for cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes. But today’s lifestyle is not conducive to being physically active. People may have a long commute, a desk job or a nightly TV-watching habit—or all three, explained Avinash Maniram, a senior consultant at PBI Actuarial Consultants in Vancouver. “Sedentary living is something we all need to be aware of, and it’s something we need to change in our day-to-day life,” Maniram said in his presentation “Is Sitting the New Smoking? Coping With Sedentary Lifestyles” at the Canadian Health and Wellness Innovations Conference.

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About one-third of adult Canadians get some physical activity each week but spend most of their time in a sedentary state. Another one-third spend most of their day sitting and fail to get the recommended 150 minutes of activity per week. Although one group gets some exercise, both groups are at increased risk of ill health, he said.

[Canadian Health and Wellness Innovations Virtual Conference offers 12 sessions, handouts, articles, case studies and research data online.]

“It’s not only necessary to be physically active for at least 150 minutes a week, but it is also important to limit the number of waking hours being sedentary,” he said. “One hour at the gym doesn’t undo eight hours of sitting.”

One of the challenges is that work has become increasingly sedentary. For example, in the United States, jobs requiring some moderate activity declined from about 50% to 15%, while jobs that are sedentary or required only light activity increased.

At the same time, people are watching more television, which means more sitting. The number of hours spent watching TV in Canada increased from 22 to 27 hours per person weekly between 1998 and 2008. And that’s before the explosion in television-streaming services, Maniram noted.

The good news is that a recent study showed reducing sitting time by 10% had a greater impact on improving mortality than 10% increases in both leisure-time physical activity and walking for errands and commutes.

How can we increase activity when our jobs require us to sit all day? “What we need to do is at the end of every hour, ideally every 30 minutes, we need to get up out of the chair. Periodic breaks throughout the day are what undoes the damage of the sitting,” he said.

Maniram offered tips for increasing movement every day: 

  1. Walk up and down the stairs instead of taking the elevator.
  2. Stand up and walk around while talking on the phone. “I take all my phone calls standing up now.”
  3. Limit the amount of time watching TV when you get home from work.
  4. Have walk-and-talk meetings. Instead of sending an e-mail or calling, walk over to a co-worker’s desk to deliver the information.
  5. Get a walking buddy. “I got into walking and running by having someone to keep me honest and accountable and keeping it social.”
  6. Walk or ride your bike to work if it’s practical.
  7. Do desk exercises every hour or half hour—not desk push-ups or squats, but sitting up straight and doing some simple stretches. “Little discreet things that you can do to sort of break the monotony of sitting there and correcting that posture.”

 “The combination of reducing the amount of time that we’re sedentary and increasing our physical activity will hopefully ensure that 20, 30 or 40 years from now we can all stand here and talk about how well we have become,” he said.

Kathy Bergstrom, CEBS
Kathy Bergstrom, CEBS
Editor, Publications at the International Foundation

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