It seriously does. And I am not some health nerd who is active all day or a trainer that flaps his lips about the dangers of prolonged sitting, without having been in that position myself. Before I started my journey into the health and fitness field, I was wasting my strength away in an office environment in Switzerland during a three-year apprenticeship. It was a challenging experience, and it made me weak and worsened my already bad posture. Our bodies are not designed to sit for extended periods of time without moving. I tried to correct some postural imbalances, but it went from bad to worse during that time. Physiotherapy didn’t help either. The only thing that helped was me starting to do strength training and switching careers. I understand that the latter might not be an option for you, but keep on reading to hear about some simple solutions to adopt a more active lifestyle.
Sitting is the new smoking
That above statement might sound funny, but it is rather serious. The author of the phrase is Dr. James Levine, director of the Mayo Clinic-Arizona State University Obesity Solutions Initiative and inventor of the treadmill desk. The origin of that sentence comes out of his book GET UP. Backed up with a lot of research, sitting can increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, neck- and back pain. It can shorten your life, just as smoking does.
An Australian study from 2008 reports that every hour of television watched after age 25 reduces the viewer’s life expectancy by 21.8 minutes.¹ By comparison, smoking a single cigarette reduces life expectancy by 11 minutes.² I guess that is my cue to get out of my chair while writing this, for a ‘smoke’ break…
Next to regular exercise, proper nutrition, enough sleep, an inactive office job might be the reason why you never reach your health or body composition goals. Research also shows that the effects of long-term sitting are not reversible through daily exercise. That means you need to be more active during the day, because if you eat well and work out for an hour a day, but then sit for all of your waking hours, the sitting behavior might cancel out the benefits of all your exercise at the gym.³ However, sitting all day does NOT mean you have to stop working out altogether because it’s too late. Sitting all day long does not necessarily lead to all these problems. Just as smoking does not guarantee lung cancer. But it can. I just want to stress the importance of being more active during the day outside of the gym, sporting activities, etc. even if your ultimate goal is only aesthetics. Regarding calories, regular office activities burn approx. 300 calories, whereas, a more active job like a waiter, burns approx. 1300 calories per day. Regarding energy expenditure, having an active job helps.
“But I cannot change my job!”
I understand that, and you don’t need to, but there are a lot of ways to incorporate more physical activity into your day at the office. Here are a few ideas
- Using stairs: the simplest and most efficient way to be more active and burn lots of calories
- Office workout sessions: organize short and useful lunch-time HIIT classes
- Walking challenge: 10000 steps are the recommendation per day. Use a Fitness tracker to track the number of steps
- Walking or standing meetings: meetings that do not include presentations can be done walking or standing in a different environment. You might even be more creative and productive because when you sit, the body is inactive, and the brain cannot be fully engaged. In a prolonged sitting position, it is much harder to stay focused as well.
- Standing desks: a standing desk burns more calories, activates more muscle groups and increase blood circulation. A standing desk creates a much more movement rich environment.
Hit the Gym!
It is critical to strengthening the muscles which are weak and underdeveloped from sitting too much and other poor lifestyle habits. Especially as we age. The ability to get up and down off the floor is a predictor of overall mortality. A Brazilian study showed that people who could not pass a simple test of getting up and down off the floor without support were more likely to die an early death. 4 That means that you have to strengthen your body by practicing the fundamental human movements. Lower body strength will improve our quality of life by increasing the ability to balance and prevent falls as we age. I recently wrote about squats and deadlifts and their overall benefits. The reasons are obvious, next to the fact that they are increasing overall awesomeness, they actually will help you in the long-term much more than any of the other things you do in the gym.
I can only pass on the words from my former 83-year-old client Don. He said, that if he did not squat that dumbbell, he would sit in a wheelchair and not be able to walk anymore. I could tell he was pretty serious when he said that. Next to squats we also did a lot of lunges, push-ups, and rows. He moved better than many 50 or 60-year-old people. And he started strength training in his late 70s.
But it is not only about squatting and deadlifts. For an office warrior, it is very beneficial to have some exercises specifically targeting their weak areas. Here are some “corrective exercises” that could come in handy. TRX rows, TYI and Face pulls, etc. are an important part of an overall balanced program.
You can still do your bench and other more sexy exercises. Just throw in some specific exercises to target upper back, rear shoulders and other weak and underdeveloped areas.
What can you do?
After all this information, here are a few points you can incorporate to be more active during the day.
- Reduce optional sitting
If you are bound to the desk, and there is no change to switch to a standing desk (pilot, river, etc.) you might just try to reduce all the optional sitting like watching TV, sitting on the train, etc.
- Move 2 min for every 30min of sitting, get up regularly during your work day. Walk to the printer, more toilet breaks, and stand up and do some little exercises, such as squats, stretching, etc.
- Morning routine
To ensure you move all your joints at least once per day through their full range of motion, incorporate a 10- 20-minute morning mobility and stretching routine. This morning routine will be a good start for your day. Have a look at my mobility workout specifically designed for office worker.
If it happens that you are in Bangkok, check out my upcoming seminar about sitting with a lot of practical tips to take home.
November 26th, 2016 @ Aspire Club
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¹ Television viewing time and reduced life expectancy: a life table analysis. Br J Sports Med. 2012 Oct;46(13):927-30. doi: 10.1136/bjsm.2011.085662.
² Time for a smoke? One cigarette reduces your life by 11 minutes. BMJ. 2000 Jan 1;320(7226):53.
³ Sedentary time and its association with risk for disease incidence, mortality, and hospitalization in adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Ann Intern Med. 2015 Jan 20;162(2):123-32. doi: 10.7326/M14-1651.
4 Ability to sit and rise from the floor as a predictor of all-cause mortality. Eur J Prev Cardiol. 2014 Jul;21(7):892-8. doi: 10.1177/2047487312471759. Epub 2012 Dec 13.