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Is Sitting for More than Six Hours a Day As Bad As They Say It Is?

If you’ve been keeping tabs on workplace trends, you’ve probably run across the slew of recent stories sounding the alarm.

Why the outcry? The experts are saying that being sedentary for more than six hours a day is just as bad for your body as smoking.

Now, before you run out and order a fleet of standing desks, let’s take a few moments to find out where these claims came from, what the real statistics are and what workers can do to get themselves moving throughout the day.

Who Came Up with This Idea?

We can trace the boom of the “sitting is as bad as smoking” claim all the way back to a TED Conference in 2013 in Long Beach, Calif., where speaker Nilofer Merchant stunned the audience with the following statistics:

  • We spend more than nine hours a day sitting
  • We spend about eight hours a day sleeping
  • Sedentary lifestyles increase the risk of various types of cancers, heart disease and diabetes

Not very encouraging, is it? Most of the scare here comes from a May 2010 study out of the University of South Carolina. Researchers found that men who sat for more than 23 hours a week or drove a vehicle more than 10 hours a week had significantly higher chances of heart disease.

While Merchant may have launched this data into the mainstream, various other websites published stories about the dangers of prolonged sitting many months before Merchant.

Lifehacker published a story in 2011 about the very same thing, supplementing their story with a doom-and-gloom infographic about the dangers of sitting. Now don’t get us wrong … the statistics are legitimate and definitely serve as a wake-up call to office workers and couch potatoes.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that sitting jobs are not a death sentence. There are numerous different ways you can counteract the possible side effects of sitting.

Fighting the Sedentary Workplace: Frequent Breaks, Walking and More

Our first thought about the sedentary antidote was exercise. After all, the American Heart Association recommends that everyone do at least 30 minutes of exercise five days a week. But exercising 30 minutes a day won’t necessarily save you from the ill effects of being at a desk all day. Here are some tips for combatting the risks of a sedentary routine:

Take a Break from Your Desk at Least Once an Hour

It’s almost a cliché, isn’t it? But an Australian study published in 2008 in the medical journal Diabetes Care reported that men who took breaks from their desk had smaller waistlines, lower BMI’s and reduced triglycerides. That’s great news, mainly because most of us can get away from our desks – even if just for a few seconds – every hour.

Take one minute at the top of each hour to stand up, stretch and sneak in a quick walk around the corner and back. It will, according to research, play a huge role in your health.

Elevators: Just Say No

In a 2014 article by TODAY contributor Meghan Holohan, Charleston-based sports medicine specialists Dr. David Geier said the stairs can add to your defense against problems associated with sitting more than six hours a day.

“Use the stairs in your office as a quick way to work out—if you have a few minutes, walk up a few flights and then back to your office,” Holohan wrote.

There are limits to this, though. If you work in a downtown skyscraper, shoot for a few flights of stairs at the top of the hour.

Comfortable Chairs Can Be Your Best Friend

Have you ever sat in a rickety office chair long enough to feel that deep ache somewhere along your spine? This is a tell-tale sign that your chair is on its last legs (literally) or has lost its ability to support your back during 8-hour days.

It may seem counterintuitive to buy a quality chair so you can fight a sedentary lifestyle, but think about it in terms of your physical capacity. If you have an old chair that puts your back in knots, you’re going to be far less inclined to get up and walk or hit the stairs every hour.

Most likely, you’ll be daydreaming about collapsing into your mattress to give your back a rest.

Our Solutions for Getting You Back On Your Feet

Cubicles Office Environments offers a formidable selection of quality office chairs. We have dozens of different styles and price points.

We also feature standing workstations in the Ergonomics section of our catalog.


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