-Written by our partner and friends at ERGOEDGE
Have you heard about the “sitting disease”? It’s a real thing, and it’s really bad for you. Scientists are now calling sitting the new smoking.
Sitting disease refers to a myriad of life-threatening illnesses brought about by excessive sitting. They include diabetes, heart disease, and cancer; not to mention various chronic problems like back pain, varicose veins, migraines, anxiety, depression and more.
Sitting down for too long causes fundamental changes in your body that lead to all of the above nasties. The unnatural position in which we sit affects our circulation, hormone releases and digestion.
So, you must be thinking, how long is too long?
Medical professionals say you need to change position every 30 minutes and get up and move around every 60 minutes. What’s more, sitting for longer than 4 hours, even if you are moving around, dramatically increases your risk of a major disease.
But no, don’t quit your office job to join the circus just yet.
Take a breath, and let’s look at a few simple actions that can, quite literally, save your life.
1. Make More Exercise Inevitable
Park your car at the farthest section of the parking lot. Get off the bus one stop early. Stop using the elevator for just a few flights of stairs.
Use the water cooler and the bathroom on another floor. (Dehydration is a serious problem for most of us so, set your alarm on the hour every hour. Then walk upstairs to rehydrate regularly.)
And when you walk, walk fast! The faster you walk the more calories you will burn and the better your circulation will be. Walking really is a magical exercise. It can be done for a few minutes or a few hours and is what our bodies are created to do.
Some people are lucky enough to have a gym at the office. If you don’t, small and regular exercises at your desk can strengthen those muscles that are wasting away as you are sitting. If everyone else in the office is on board with your sitting health plan, great, they won’t laugh at you. And, if they laugh, who cares? It’s your life. Deskercises should be a combination of stretches and strength building. Try head and neck rolls, push-ups using your desk as support, full body stretches, toe touching, etc. and do 30 minutes of these each day. That could be 5 minutes every hour, or 10 minutes every 2 hours, etc. etc.
3. Stand for a call
When your phone rings, make a habit of standing up when answering. Be careful not to be silly about taking notes stooped over your desk. But, in general, standing and doing some stretching exercises during a 3-minute phone call will do wonders for your circulation. If Presidents can do it, so can you!
4. Walk to Talk!
I was at my friend’s house the other day and her husband was upstairs as I was leaving. Instead of going upstairs to get him to come and say goodbye, she phoned him! Even though I laughed, I thought how many times I have sent a one-line email to a colleague instead of getting up and walking 20 metres to go and talk to her.
Make it a habit to stand up and walk over to your colleagues whenever possible. Not only will it make a difference to your sitting habits, but it’s also friendlier as well!
5. Don’t Do it Alone
If your colleagues are wondering why you are jumping up and down like a bunny rabbit, get them to join in. At the next coffee break, tell them what you are doing and why.
Don’t preach; there’s nothing worse than someone being self-righteous about their health. Instead, make it fun and a team challenge.
Try holding standing meetings. You might be surprised how much you get done in a much shorter period of time when people aren’t sitting too comfortably.
See if your boss will agree to sponsor group classes such as yoga or aerobics if possible. This is excellent for staff morale and promotes team building. There’s nothing like a morning start of calisthenics to cheer up the team.
A small tip – don’t make these classes too intense so more people can join.
6. Look Away
Do you often finish work with a headache?
It can be stress related but, eye strain is a huge problem for many office workers. Hour after hour of staring at the screen puts a strain on your eye muscles so give them a break.
Set a quiet alarm on your computer every 20 minutes to look away for at least 20 seconds, one minute is better. This will give those tiny little muscles around your eyes time to relax.
7. Give Your Brain a Break
When you take your breaks, coffee or lunch, make a point to take a complete break. Move away from your desk. Leave your mobile and tablet at your desk. Try a few minutes of meditation which is proven to be beneficial for health. Just switch it off.
8. Watch Your Posture
Good posture is vital. Poor posture, over time, leads to spinal misalignment and persistent pain.
The spine itself has a natural curve; it is not ramrod straight as if you are standing to attention in a military parade. The idea is to achieve alignment. This means imagining a string from your coccyx, through your spine, and all the way through to the top of your head. This string should be straight.
When standing, your head should be straight with your spine, not leaning backward or forward. Your shoulders should be in line with your hips and relaxed, and your bottom should be tucked in.
When sitting, the string theory still applies but, in this case, you should sit with your hips, knees and ankles at right at 90 degrees. Your thighs should be at the same level as your knees.
Both these postures allow for the spine to be in its natural position and for your internal organs to function as intended without being squashed.
Ergonomically designed furniture will help you sit properly. Unfortunately, most mass-market chairs and desks encourage lousy sitting posture.
So, ask your boss for ergonomic chairs and furniture. Justify it on the grounds that you’d be more productive when sitting properly.
But even if your boss is not keen, it is worth investing in your own well being.
9. No More Couch Potato
However hard your day has been, unless you have a physically challenging job, don’t be tempted to park your backside on the sofa when you get home. Get changed and go to the gym, do the housework, go shopping, run errands, take the dog for a walk.
Anything and I mean anything, that results in you not sitting for the rest of the day is a win!
10. Take a Stand. Today!
Sounds drastic? For the traditionalist, sitting at a desk and working intensely through the day might be the norm.
But we’ve really reached the point where standing really ought to be the new sitting. The poet Ogden Nash’s quote “People who work sitting down get paid more than people who work standing up” really doesn’t apply anymore.
Studies show that users of standing desks suffer less from the sad list of diseases we discussed earlier. Circulation and respiration are improved, blood sugar levels settle more quickly than when seated, and you are more likely to move around naturally whilst standing. Plus, you burn a few extra calories.
So, we should all ditch the desk and start standing all day immediately, right? Actually, no.
Our bodies are not meant to stand all day either (it’s associated with a whole host of other illnesses). Consider investing in an adjustable standing desk, so you can alternate between standing and sitting throughout the day.
After a few days of alternating between standing and sitting, you will soon find that the aches in your legs and feet disappear. You will actually be more comfortable standing to work than sitting. Don’t forget you still need to take regular breaks for your fast walking around the office.
Look, we can’t all change our jobs to avoid sitting. We all know that.