Take a stand: Simple changes to daily habits lower health risks from sitting all day

LONDON, Ontario — Plenty of studies in recent years have echoed the same results when it comes to the health risk of desk jobs: No matter how you slice it, sitting down for 40 hours a week at the office is, flat out, bad for your body. But a study conducted by a research team from Western University in Canada finds you can mitigate health issues related to a sedentary lifestyle with a few easy behavioral modifications.

Sitting for prolonged hours every day is linked to diabetes and heart disease, along with some forms of cancer and even clogged arteries, according to recent research. Just being glued to your seat for an hour can increase one’s chances of an early death. Scientists can’t stress enough how vital it is to be on our feet more frequently when our jobs necessitate us to be seated.

“Even if we exercise regularly, most of us sit or recline for an average of 11 hours a day,” says study co-author Wuyou (Yoah) Sui, a kinesiology PhD student at the university, in a release. “Our bodies just aren’t designed to function well with such low levels of activity — we all have to move more often than we do, or endure a variety of chronic health issues.”

For the study, the researchers gave a cohort of 52 Western students — 38 women and 14 men — a structured, six-week process that helped them take more frequent breaks from their desks. Students were tasked with finding the best tool to remind them to get out of their seats on a regular basis. Some used alarms and phone alerts to make sure they stood up and moved around during the breaks, which ideally occurred every 30 minutes and would last for two to three minutes.

A control group was given dietary guidelines to follow during the same six-week period, without adjusting their sitting practices.

After the study, the researchers found the participants habitually took breaks, on average, once an hour. Before, they described themselves as taking a break every 90 minutes, on average. The effect continued even two weeks after the study’s end. Meanwhile, those in the diet group, of course, showed no change in desk habits.

“It’s human nature to stumble when trying to add new activities to a busy day, which is why diets and exercise resolutions sometimes fall flat,” says Sui. “This study shows we can combat ‘occupational sitting’ not by adding a new activity but by sliding a substitute regimen into the place of an existing one.”

Some simple suggestions the research team offers:

  • Stand up during phone calls
  • Don’t fill your water or coffee up all the way in one break room visit. Force yourself to take more trips
  • Instead of emailing people in the office, engage in a walk-and-talk with them

The full study was published Dec. 5, 2017 in the journal Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being.

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Ben Renner

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