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The Effects of Sitting

Here’s one piece of serious news that you shouldn’t sit down for: sitting for hours on end, day after day, is detrimental to your health. Recent articles have gone as far as to label sitting as the “smoking of our generation”. Could placing Surgeon General warnings on office furniture be a reality one day? It’s doubtful, but before you decide, keep reading.

By reducing “excessive sitting” to less than three hours a day, the U.S. life expectancy could increase by 2 full years, according to a July 2012 study. By comparison, smoking knocks off 2.5 years of life expectancy for men and 1.8 years for women. In addition to an increased mortality rate, the more you sit, the greater your chances of developing Metabolic Syndrome. Metabolic Syndrome is the occurrence of three or more factors - abdominal obesity, low levels of "good cholesterol," high blood pressure, high triglyceride levels, and hyperglycemia – that when combined put you at a higher risk for serious medical issues such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Additionally, prolonged sitting has also been shown to weaken posture, reduce caloric burn and circulation, reduce productivity, and increase frequency of stress and depression.

You may be wondering, “How can sitting be so harmful to my health? It seems so natural!” The answer is simple - our bodies were made to move – yet the typical American adult sits over nine hours per day. With the advent of television, video games, computers, and smartphones, we’ve officially become the most sedentary individuals of all time. Unfortunately, a lot of our day-to-day movement simply takes us from one chair to another.

Here’s the good news. It doesn’t take an intense or extremely long workout session to offset the effects of prolonged sitting. Research has shown that regardless of how much moderate to vigorous exercise people get, those who take more breaks from sitting throughout the day have slimmer waists, lower body mass indexes, and lower blood sugar levels.

With over 150 million Americans spending half of their waking hours at the worksite, it’s not only the best place to improve our nation’s health, but employers have a responsibility to do so. So how can employers implement change? Here are a few solutions we’ve helped employers implement to combat excessive sitting in the workplace.

  • Stand-up desks or treadmill desks (Standing can burn up to 50 more calories an hour than sitting)
  • Activity tracking devices (Pedometer-wearers take 2,000 more steps per day on average)
  • Extended lunch break for workouts (E.g., giving 90 minutes for lunch if used for a workout)
  • Fractionalized workout opportunities (Three 10 minute breaks given to move, stretch, and re-focus)
  • Decision prompts (Signs encouraging employees to take the stairs, go for a walk, stretch, etc.)
  • Text and Email movement reminders (The average American adult checks their phone every 6.5 minutes)

One of the most common objections we receive from employers is that these temporary breaks from work will hurt productivity, and in turn, the bottom line. We found the exact opposite to be true.

In a recent study on productivity, small chunks of movement where the heart rate was elevated (but sweat was not required!) did wonders to improve employee performance. Specifically, 30 minutes of this activity throughout the 8 hour workday improved output by 23% due to increased cognitive functioning and circulation. That’s 14 seconds on the minute, or 112 minutes of increased output per day, for the average employee. 30 minutes of movement for 112 minutes of increased output is a productivity ROI of 3.71 : 1.

While it might not be possible to completely remove sitting at the workplace, excusing yourself from that “sitting cigarette” not only has the ability to shrink your waistline, but that growing stack of papers on your desk as well.

Patrick Mercer, Frost Insurance