We all know that leisure time sitting–epitomized by TV watching–is bad for our health, but the latest research is turning its focus on another kind of inactivity: occupational sitting, a.k.a. sitting at your desk. Even those of us who spend at least five hours a week doing moderate to vigorous exercises like running or spinning are probably spending at least 8-10 hours a day seated in front of the computer. Add to that 1-2 hours a day we spend commuting to work, you might not be as physically active as your busy gym schedule might lead you to believe.
So what are the occupational hazards of being a working adult in the modern world? According to a recent U.K. study, people who spend the most time sitting have a whopping 147% increased cardiovascular risks. Sitting is even a risk factor for Type II diabetes, cardio-metabolic morbidity, and certain types of cancers. But here’s good news, before you contemplate buying a treadmill desk or switching careers: Danish scientists conducted a cross-sectional population-based study of working adults in order to compare the health risks of occupational sitting against those of leisure sitting. The subjects were asked to report on their daily occupational and leisure sitting times, and were divided according to high and low sitting time for each by a threshold number (Occupational sitting time = +/-6 hours; leisure sitting time = +/- 3 hours). After adjusting for other markers like BMIs, waist circumference, and eating habbits, the overall sitting time (combined leisure and occupational) was associated with high risk factors for cardiovascular diseases and diabetes. But interestingly, the association of occupational sitting time with risk factors was fewer and weaker than the association with leisure sitting time, with the risks increasing in the following order: Low occupational and low leisure sitting time; high occupational and low leisure sitting time; low occupational and high leisure sitting time; high occupational and high sitting time.
The researchers suggested that occupational sitting time includes more “breaks” or bursts of activity than leisure sitting time, which makes some sense. At work I find myself frequently getting up to go to the printer, the mail room, or the bathroom, while I’m much more likely to stay put (read: glued to the couch) when I’m watching TV or reading at home. Here are some tips to incorporate more activity at work and at home:
1. Get up at least once every hour to go to the water fountain or the bathroom: You’ll even get in the habit of drinking more water!
2. Instead of emailing your colleague, drop by his desk and talk to him in person: Not only will you squeeze in more exercise, you’ll even build stronger relationship with your coworkers. Close friendships at work also boost employee happiness by 50% and increase feelings of engagement and fulfillment.
3. Stand on the subway: Sometimes this is not even a choice, but even if there’s an empty seat, why not stand? You’d also feel better if you offer your seat to someone who really needs it, like a mom with young children or the elderly.
4. Walk to the grocery store: I do a big grocery shopping at the farmer’s market on Saturdays, but I like to do mini-trips midweek at the grocery store. A quick trip keeps you from dinner boredom and adds 30-45 minutes of brisk walking.
5. Stretch while watching TV: this is a great way to increase your flexibility and add more (gentle) activity to your leisure time. Try these Foam Roller Stretches while you tune in. This is also the ideal time to be working on your core, especially if you tend to do a lot of cardio at the expense of core–try these fun (no crunch) ab exercises. If you would rather do intense bursts during commercial breaks, try these Body Blast Moves that tone and condition your entire body.
Related: 4 Ways a Bad Posture Can Affect Your Health
Can Just One Minute of Exercise Affect Your Weight?