How is a chair like a cigarette? They can both kill us. No joke. We all know cigarettes are bad for our health and can lead to premature death, but chairs? They are so inviting; in fact, they invite us to sit in them everywhere we go … every room of the house (including the bathroom), the porch, office, car, bus, airplane, theater, park, restaurant, airport, friends’ homes, school, courtroom, doctor’s office. You get the point.
As a society, we are encouraged to sit. It is part of our culture, our daily routine, our obligation. If we are in any of the aforementioned places and we are caught standing instead of sitting, we make others feel uneasy and call attention to ourselves. Therefore, we sit. Most Americans with sedentary jobs spend 80 percent of their time sitting or sleeping. Those in the legal profession likely spend 90 percent or more of each day sitting or sleeping. Add it up: Sleep [7 hours] + Sit at work [8 hours] + Watch TV/Computer [3 hours] + Eat [2 .5 hours] + Commute [1.5 hours] = 22 hours.
What’s wrong with sitting a lot? You make a decent living in this profession, right? Sure, but sitting is killing you. Countless research studies conclude the sitting habit is just as fatal to our health as the smoking habit. “Preposterous,” you say, knowing your ergonomically adjustable office chair and favorite recliner would never conspire to harm your health. Beware the traitors! These so-called comforts are actually sending you toward a rapid health decline. The studies inconclusively held that all else being equal, someone with an occupation that involves walking and lifting has a 27-percent lower chance of dying from all causes than someone who mostly sits in their occupation. Specifically, the “sitting disease” increases your risk of dying from heart disease (52 percent in men and 28 percent in women) and cancer (45 percent in men and 28 percent in women). It causes an increase in Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and of course, obesity. It can lead to blood clots in the legs from sitting in a rigid position for long periods of time, which can cause a stroke. This disease can cause sleep apnea from the fluid collecting in the legs moving to the neck. Not convinced? Look around you. Look in the mirror. Add up the hours in the seat. Compare your health now to when you began your sedentary job. Do you suffer from sitting disease?
If you answered “yes,” there is hope that you can reverse this disease and prevent its recurrence without changing jobs. The key is to increase your NEAT: “non-exercise activity thermogenesis.” NEAT activities include walking to lunch, parking farther away, pacing while on the phone, walking during meetings, taking the stairs, walking around the block before work or after dinner, cleaning the house, cooking, and standing while you talk to a friend. NEAT doesn’t include the calories you burn during intense exercise such as biking, jogging, aerobics or power walking. NEAT accounts for much of our movement and caloric expenditure throughout the day, about 1,500-2,400 calories-worth. However, NEAT has vanished from most of our lives because we sit so much at work and home. To make matters worse, we are addicted to “anti-NEAT devices” such as alarm clocks, cellphones, home computers, microwaves, remote controls, electric toothbrushes, snow blowers, lawnmowers, leaf blowers, etc.
Here’s the deal: if you incorporate NEAT activities into your day, you can easily burn an extra 500-1,000 calories per day and lose a pound a week (one pound equals 3,500 calories). I hear the skepticism in your thoughts: “These little things can’t possibly add up to better health.” Squelch that thought! Look at the evidence in the table comparing the typical day at the office versus the new way of working, as adapted from the book, “Move a Little, Lose a Lot,” by James Levine and Selene Yeager.
How tough is it to have a non-typical/new office day? Not at all! Moreover, if you stand at your desk to type and read, instead of sitting to do those activities, you will tone leg muscles and expend calories, which contribute to a healthy life. No money to invest in an adjustable/standing desk? No worries … create your own for free! Make a “standing desk” by placing a cardboard box on top of your desk. I use an empty wine box from Trader Joe’s. And, no, I didn’t drink the wine first. The box can be decorated or covered in fabric to give it a more professional appearance. This works at home, too. Simply convert sedentary TV time to active TV time and you could lose 50 pounds a year. Marching in place while watching TV or picking up a pair of light weights and raising them overhead, etc., would burn thousands of calories in a year and translate to better health.
One last word on sitting disease. Those of you who exercise daily for 30 to 90 minutes are not exempt from the ill effects of sitting all day at your desk job. Your exercise, alone, does not significantly offset the health risks of too much sitting. The outcome of the 14-plus years of research and review of the lifestyles of all types of people, their professions and their health status found that sitting at work raises the risk of dying from all causes, regardless of any exercise in which the individual may engage.
The bottom line? We all need to get off our seats and move! I’m challenging you to make these incremental changes to better your health and that of our state, which recently topped the charts again, but in the wrong area. Indiana is the ninth-most obese state, with 32 percent of Hoosier adults being categorized as obese. Are you going to take this news sitting down, or are you going to stand up and make a change to better your health?•
Sharon McGoff is a graduate of Indiana University Maurer School of Law, a certified personal trainer and health fitness specialist with the American College of Sports Medicine, and a certified life and wellness coach with WellCoaches Inc. The opinions expressed are those of the author.