Get Up Right Now: Why Sitting is the New Smoking

Article posted in: Lifestyle

Your chair is trying to kill you.

OK, not really. But sitting in it (or on the couch) all day is one of the most dangerous things you can do to your health: A study from the American Cancer Society found that women who sit for six hours per day were 37 percent more likely to die during the time period studied than those who sat for three hours or fewer. (Men who sat that much were 20 percent more likely to die.)

And the more you sit, the worse it gets: Sit half the day? A Louisiana study found that those who do so are 54 percent more likely to die of a heart attack. Sit even more? An Australian study found that people who sit for 11 hours or more per day are 40 percent more likely to die over the next three years, regardless of what they do when they’re not sitting.

And it’s not just chronic disease and death risk—sitting also makes your remaining life tougher for your body. Scientists from the University of Missouri contend that fat-burning enzymes are “shut off” when you’re not standing, so people who sit all day are “losing the opportunity for optimal metabolism throughout the day.” And it can make you feel worse: Some studies suggest too much sedentary time has an inverse relationship with psychological well-being.

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All this is pretty harrowing, especially when you realize that six to eight hours of sitting isn’t extreme—it’s the US national average for people under 60, according to the American Heart Association. And even if you exercise, it won’t cure a whole day spent on your butt: In the Louisiana study above, it didn’t matter what you did when you weren’t sitting. If you sit too much, your mortality risk is increased.

Which is why, if you’re an office worker, a standing desk may be your answer. In one study, when used in an elementary school, kids at standing desks wound up with lower BMIs. And they can boost your career performance, too: A study from Texas A&M found that workers who used standing desks were 46 percent more productive than employees who were sitting.

That number alone may be enough to convince your boss to invest in a standing desk for you to use. But it may also not cost the company a dime: Many company’s health benefits now cover the purchase of a standing desk—because, as you’ve seen, sitting can result in negative health effects that can cost the company a lot more in medical bills than the raised desk would ever cost. Ask your company’s human resources department if it’s included in your benefits.

And ask if the desk (or monitor stand) can be adjustable: Even if you like a standing desk, you may not like it all day, every day. Constant standing while working may not be ideal for you for every task and if you start to slouch, you’re trading one potential medical issue—chronic disease—for another—namely, posture issues, slumped shoulders and back and neck pain. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration recommends a standing working position where your head, neck, torso and legs are all in line—a position you may not be able to maintain all day.

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If adjustable isn’t available, try it out for a few days: Use a pile of heavy books or a leftover box from printer paper to elevate your monitor and keyboard so you can stand in the OSHA-approved position with your head and neck in line with your torso, the monitor just below eye level. If you find you like standing all day, great—get HR to grab you the standing desk you need.

If you don’t like it or find that you slouch, that’s OK, too: Find a few tasks that you can comfortably do standing each day. An easy one: Take phone calls standing up. Not only will you reduce your total sitting time, but you could be more attentive and less prone to get off-task. Many managers now recommend “standing meetings” for just this reason: The meetings are more efficient and end sooner, getting employees back to more meaningful work.

You can also reduce your overall seated time by getting up at least once an hour: Walk to another colleague’s desk to talk about an issue rather than emailing, grab another cup of coffee, or stroll around on your lunch hour instead of taking the midday meal at your desk. See if you can reduce your seated time by even an hour per day to start—and your retirement could be much, much longer.