Pushing Away From The Work Desk
The sedentary office is unnatural. We spend so much of our time sitting that it's easy to forget what a recent development this is for humankind. Evidence suggests links between sedentary behavior and musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, metabolic and mental health problems. Now, health officials in the U.K. Are recommending two to four hours of activity during the workday.
According to a new consensus statement published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, workers in desk-based jobs should aim for at least two hours of standing or light walking as part of their daily routines, ultimately working up to as much as four hours per workday.
Employees should achieve this in part by regularly alternating between seat-based and standing-based work, and the public health experts strongly recommend adjustable, sit-stand desk stations. The advice is based largely on observational studies and cites among the additional benefits of moving more at work improved employee productivity and possible healthcare cost savings.
To achieve the recommended level of work-related activity, the authors write, “seated-based work should be regularly broken up with standing-based work, the use of sit-stand desks, or the taking of short active standing breaks. Along with other health promotion goals (improved nutrition, reducing alcohol, smoking and stress), companies should also promote among their staff that prolonged sitting, aggregated from work and in leisure time, may significantly and independently increase the risk of cardiometabolic diseases and premature mortality.”
Even if a person completes the recommended daily 30 minutes of exercise, the amount of time spent sitting in the day still substantially affects mortality risk. People that sit the most have a 112% increase in the relative risk (RR) of diabetes and a 147% increase in the RR of cardiovascular events compared to people who sit down the least.
Overall mortality is increased by 50%. Sitting down has similar mortality rates to smoking. It’s been shown that prolonged sitting adversely affects glucose metabolism. However, sitting with light-moderate intensity breaks can significantly reduce glucose and insulin levels.
Positive associations between cancer and sedentary behavior exist. It is thought that since sedentary behavior contributes to an interrelated network of increased body fat, altered production of sex hormones, metabolic dysfunction, leptin, adiponectin and inflammation, it encourages cancer development.
Interestingly, 18 mini-breaks from seated positions are better than having one chunk of exercise in a day to reduce blood glucose and cardiovascular disease risk. In one 2014 study, Alternating sitting and standing was comparable to uninterrupted sitting regarding plasma glucose. Sitting and light intensity activity breaks lowered subjects plasma glucose.
That study aside, standing does of course have benefits compared to sitting. However, prolonged standing can increase risk of varicose veins and musculoskeletal problems. The solution is moving: alternating standing, sitting and light walking.
In another recent large analysis published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers examined data from 47 studies that assessed the health effects of sedentary behavior adjusted for physical activity. Increased exercise blunted—but did not completely eliminate—the excess risks associated with sedentary behavior. This illustrates just how serious a problem sedentarism can be, with even vigorous exercise not entirely offsetting its deleterious effects.
The challenges associated with treadmill desks—covered in the Jan/Feb issue of Running & FitNews®—make it likely that the best bet, and what the British authors seem to be suggesting, is to get up and walk around regularly at work, as well as perform as much as half of your workday tasks while standing.