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Sitting at work as hazardous as smoking?

Image courtesy of Cory Couillard

We are all sitting more than ever before.  Many prefer to sit and watch sport versus play and the majority of our day is sitting at work, school or in the car.  This is clearly a dangerous behavior that will play a significant role in the development of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and many cancers.

Mayo Clinic obesity expert Dr. James Levine describes sitting to be as hazardous as smoking to our health.  “Sitting all day is literally killing us,” claims Levine. 

The breaking news is providing new insight into an ever-growing concern of non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.  The results of the study indicate that we may be fighting an uphill battle if we continue to sit. 

The research looked at the effects of conventional exercise on reversing the potential damage associated with sitting.  The results were not encouraging. 

“Being sedentary for nine hours a day at the office is bad for your health whether you go home and watch television afterwards or hit the gym. It is bad whether you are morbidly obese or marathon-runner thin. It appears that what is critical and maybe even more important than going to the gym, is breaking up that sitting time,” according to Levine.

Sitting causes the body’s metabolic rate to plummet to a third of what it would be while walking.  This causes one to gain excess weight around the body but also around the vital organs.  The heart is known to slow and the risk of developing type-2 diabetes skyrockets. 

The excess stress on the body is known to trigger the inflammatory process that will throw havoc on one’s immune system, blood sugar and cholesterol levels.  The result is severe medical conditions, outlandish amounts of medications and no ultimate solutions without changing sitting and lifestyle habits.

“It is almost like sort of owning a really cool sports car and letting it idle all day long.  The engine gets gunked up. That's what happens to our bodies. The body, as we know, simply isn't built to sit all day,” Levine described.

I sit and I’m lean

We must ask ourselves the age-old question, why does one gain weight and not another?  The question may seem easy but the findings of the study provide a behind the scenes look at other unknown contributing factors.

“People who are lean, even who don't go to the gym, move about two and a quarter hours a day more than people with obesity,” Levine described. “Somehow those individuals are finding the opportunities to walk to the trashcan, to walk down to accounting, to go to the bathroom, or the coffee shop, whatever it may be.”

The study also showed that people who fidget or move semi-continuously were in better shape than those who don’t.  Movement has been found to be the key to one’s metabolic rate. 

Rural life to city life

The results of the study are not an end-all, be-all as other components are known to play a role in the development of obesity and poor health.  The important factor to consider is that we live in a similar society and must recognize the common aspects that are contributing to the problem. 

“We all have the same stuff.  We all live in the same environment, but half of us have a weight problem and half of us don’t,” says Levine. 

The progressive shift from rural life to city life has created many of the health conditions that are known today.  Luxuries and technological advancements have caused us to walk less and sit more. 

”All of the sudden if you take that historical view of this, you realize we're living a completely different way to how we were designed.  I mean it is inconceivable that we were ever going to be a group, a population, a species sitting on our bottoms all day long.  We're just not meant to do that.  So is it a surprise that the consequences are devastating?  No,” Levine describes. 

Get active at work

Employees who are physically active at work also enjoy it more. Research has shown employees to have better concentration, more mentally alert, have greater rapport with colleagues and of course better physical fitness.

Walking is good for the body and mind. You can walk at any time and anywhere. Encourage colleagues to walk more before, during and after work.  It’s a free and easy way of building physical activity into a healthy daily routine. Get up and move for 10 minutes every hour.

Many health authorities promote common sense activities such as taking the stairs and parking further way to get some additional exercise in.  These activities are commonly associated with the start and end of the day and not the nine hours in-between. 

The use of an exercise ball as a chair is becoming more popular as well.  The exercise ball helps with continual movement, good posture and strengthening of the abdominal and back muscles.

Use the bathroom on another floor in multi-story workspaces.  One can also deliver documents or messages to co-workers in person instead of relying on email or other forms of technology.

Get a headset if you spend a lot of time on the phone.  Standing up and moving around while you talk can also increase the efficiency of your work. 

Be creative. Any movement is better than none.  Don't feel like you have to do sprints all day to get exercise in your day. The addition of short bouts of exercise will help lower weight, reduce stress and boost one’s metabolism naturally.

Get active at home

It is advised to implement an effective exercise program after one completes the increased movement program at work.  To get the best results one will need to select the most efficient form of exercise to lose weight, reduce inflammation and balance hormones. 

In the Journal of Obesity, researchers found that obese men performing one hour of high-intensity, short-duration exercise experienced the same physical benefits as those who jogged for seven hours.

The results of the published study show that after a 12-week trial the participants in the study lost on average 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds), 17 percent of which was fat around the organs.

Don’t get discouraged. It’s common for several thoughts to go through a person’s mind when they think of exercise – generally none are positive.  It’s common to think that it’s expensive, it hurts, it’s time-consuming and, most commonly, I don’t know how to do it properly.

Exercise is one of the most important aspects to one’s health regardless of how one feels about it.  Get active at work and then consult with a healthcare professional if you need additional advice or help selecting a program that is right for you.

Dr. Cory Couillard is an international healthcare speaker and columnist for numerous newspapers, magazines, websites and publications throughout the world. He works in collaboration with the World Health Organization's goals of disease prevention and global healthcare education. Views do not necessarily reflect endorsement.

Facebook: Dr Cory Couillard
Twitter: DrCoryCouillard


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