Take a Stand for Better Health
Too much sitting is dangerous, so get off your tush!
Many of us sit for hours, every day — during our commute, behind our desk, in front of the television — and it’s killing us, researchers say. The negative health effects of sitting are well-established. For example:
- A peer-reviewed study involving approximately 800,000 people, carried out by British researchers from Loughborough University and the University of Leicester, found that people who sat the longest (compared with those who sat the least) have a more than 100 percent increased risk of diabetes, a nearly 150 percent increase in cardiovascular events, an almost 100 percent increase in death caused by cardiovascular events, and a 49 percent increase in death from any cause.
- A recent study in the Annals of Internal Medicine concludes, “Prolonged sedentary time was independently associated with deleterious health outcomes regardless of physical activity.” In other words, even a brisk run or other strenuous physical activity every day can’t undo the damage done by hours of uninterrupted chair time.
Excessive sitting affects mental health and productivity, too. Researchers led by psychological scientist Michelle Kilpatrick of the University of Tasmania surveyed more than 3,300 government workers and found a significant relationship between rates of psychological distress and sitting. Employees who sat for longer than six hours per day had increased prevalence of moderate symptoms of anxiety and depression relative to those who reported sitting for less than three hours a day.
Learn more: Google “dangers of sitting” for more scientific data.
Adopt Work Solutions to Sit Less
Breaking free of your chair can be tough, especially at work. Here are a few ideas to adapt your office routine to sit less.
Set an Alarm
We often sit for long stretches without thinking about it. Set an alarm or other reminder to stand up and take a few steps at least every 30 minutes. Even a little movement does your body and mind good.
Drink More Water
Many of us don’t drink enough water: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says nearly half of Americans drink four or fewer glasses of water per day. The Institute of Medicine recommends that women drink approximately 2.7 liters (nearly a dozen 8-oz. glasses) of total water (from all beverages and foods) each day. For men, the recommendation is approximately 3.7 liters (125 ounces) daily. Water (as opposed to soft drinks, coffee, etc.) costs nothing and is calorie free. And drinking more water does more than just prevent dehydration and improve overall body function; it also forces us out of our seats to refill our cups and to use the bathroom.
Anytime your phone rings, stand to talk. Pace, if you can. Even if you must remain near your workstation, at least you’re getting out of your chair.
Deliver Your Message in Person
If you need to send a message to a colleague down the hall or on the next floor, walk to see him or her instead of emailing or calling. “In person” interruptions aren’t always welcome, but often you can resolve an issue quicker face to face than by exchanging multiple messages.
Lunch and Go
Whether you take your lunch at your desk, or consider lunch to be a sacred time to get out of the office, give yourself at least 15 minutes to walk after eating. Almost all of us could use more exercise, but moving your body after meals is especially helpful. Researchers have found that a postprandial walk can aid digestion and improve blood sugar levels (blood sugar typically spikes immediately after a meal).
When eating out or in the break room, choose a high table and stool rather than a chair. Sit on the “edge of your seat” and keep weight on your feet.
If you choose to drive-thru for lunch, park and take a walk while you eat. It’s no more awkward — and a lot safer — than eating while navigating traffic.
Meet on Your Feet
“Standing meetings” (a favorite of AAPC CEO Jason VandenAkker) accomplish two tasks at once: They get you out of your chair and they make the meetings shorter!
According to a 1999 study, published by University of Missouri researchers in the Journal of Applied Psychology, standing meetings last on average only two-thirds as long as sit-down meetings. That’s good news for those of us who dread never-ending meetings. Plus, researchers at Washington University in St. Louis report that groups working together on a project while standing are more engaged than while seated.
Note: Taking meeting minutes can suffer during standing meetings. Equip your conference/meeting room with a few tall tables to make this easier, or consider recording your meeting with a cell phone or laptop.
Take it to the next level: If you’re meeting with only one or two others, consider the “walk and talk.” Walking can help you to focus, and you’ll get some exercise in the bargain. You might also find that walking together improves your relationships with coworkers.
Try a Standing Workstation
Perhaps the ultimate “get out of your seat” solution is a standing workstation. For added flexibility, many standing workstations can be converted quickly to seated stations (for when you must sit down).
You can also create your own standing workstation for relatively little money ($25 or less). Use your favorite search engine to seek “DIY standing desk” or “how to build a standing workstation.” You’ll find plenty of ideas.
Take it to the next level: If you have the space and the ambition (plus the financial means), you can step up to a treadmill desk.
Be the Change
Often, changing our own habits is easier than overcoming the objections of others. Your co-workers or supervisors may balk at the idea of a standing meeting, for instance, or you may have to endure some good-natured ribbing if you use (or even ask for) a standing desk. Choosing to stand when others sit may be interpreted as rude or distracting. You may be able to defuse objections by stating cheerfully, “I spend so much of my day sitting, it feels good to stand every once in a while.” Stress the benefits of standing (chief among them, healthier, more energized, and more productive employees) to help you gain acceptance — and maybe even convert a few other employees.
NHS Choices, “Having Desk Job ‘Doubles Risk’ of Heart Attack,” (www.nhs.uk/news/2012/10October/Pages/Having-desk-job-doubles-risk-of-heart-attack.aspx)
Annals of Internal Medicine, “Sedentary Time and Its Association with Risk for Disease Incidence, Mortality, and Hospitalization in Adults,” 2015; 162(2): 123-132, (http://annals.org/article.aspx?articleid=2091327)
Kilpatrick, M., Sanderson, K., Blizzard, L., Teale, B., Venn, A. (2013); Mental Health and Physical Activity, “Cross-sectional associations between sitting at work and psychological distress: Reducing sitting time may benefit mental health.” 6(2), 103–109, (www.researchgate.net/publication/259165384_Cross-sectional_associations_between_sitting_at_work_and_psychological_distress_Reducing_sitting_time_may_benefit_mental_health)
Linda Wasmer Andrews; Psychology Today, “What Sitting Does to Your Psyche,” (www.psychologytoday.com/blog/minding-the-body/201403/what-sitting-does-your-psyche)
Allen C. Bluedorn, Daniel B. Turban, and Mary Sue Love; Journal of Applied Psychology, “The Effects of Stand-Up and Sit-Down Meeting Formats on Meeting Outcomes,” 1999, Vol. 84 No. 2. 277-285, (https://business.missouri.edu/sites/default/files/bluedorn_turban_love_1999_jap.pdf).
Andrew P. Knight, Markus Baer; Sage Journals, “Get Up, Stand Up: The Effects of a Non-Sedentary Workspace on Information Elaboration and Group Performance,” (http://spp.sagepub.com/content/early/2014/06/12/1948550614538463.abstract)
Alyson B. Goodman, MD, MPH; Heidi M. Blanck, PhD; Bettylou Sherry, PhD, RD; Sohyun Park, PhD; Linda Nebeling, PhD, MPH, RD; Amy L. Yaroch, PhD; Preventing Chronic Disease, “Behaviors and Attitudes Associated With Low Drinking Water Intake Among US Adults, Food Attitudes and Behaviors Survey, 2007,” (www.cdc.gov/pcd/issues/2013/12_0248.htm)
Institute of Medicine, “Dietary Reference Intakes: Water, Potassium, Sodium, Chloride, and Sulfate,” (www.iom.edu/Reports/2004/Dietary-Reference-Intakes-Water-Potassium-Sodium-Chloride-and-Sulfate.aspx)
Anahad O’Conner, New York Times blog, “Really? The Claim: Taking a Walk After a Meal Aids Digestion,” (http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/06/24/really-the-claim-taking-a-walk-after-a-meal-aids-digestion/?_r=0)
Chris Gardner, BobVila.com, “6 DIY Standing Desk Projects to Keep You Healthy While You Work,” (www.bobvila.com/articles/diy-standing-desks/#.VYCRBFwYeDo)
John Verhovshek, MA, CPC, is managing editor at AAPC and a member of the Hendersonville-Asheville, N.C., local chapter.