Prolonged sitting has been linked to raising the risk of death and more than a dozen diseases, including cancers, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, nervous system and musculoskeletal disorders that cause chronic pain.
It is easy to spend hours seated at the desk at work, while driving, while gaming or using other technology devices, watching TV or reading. A Mayo Clinic analysis of 13 studies involving more than a million people found that “sitting for more than eight hours a day with no physical activity had a risk of dying similar to the risks of dying posed by obesity and smoking.” The analysis also found that 60-75 minutes of moderately intense daily physical activity countered the risk from too much sitting.
What to do about it?
The simple thing to do is to get up from your seat at least every 30 minutes. Build in some breaks to move about. Stand when you can while talking, reading or performing other tasks.
Alpa Patel, a senior scientific director of Epidemiology Research at the American Cancer Society who was lead author on a study about the health effects of sitting, stated, “While we still have yet to understand how to quantify what a safe amount of sitting time may be, what is clear is that individuals should take any opportunity to take breaks in sitting time and cut down sitting time to whatever degree they can.”
To get in more activity, Patel suggests standing and folding laundry, or doing simple stretches or exercises while watching TV; getting up and doing something instead of fast-forwarding through commercial breaks; taking short breaks at work to walk around the office building; walking the escalator or stairs instead of taking the elevator; and using the farthest bathroom from your desk.
Moreover, there is equipment in the marketplace tailored to offset prolonged sitting while you work. Executive assistant Kate Daniel found her neck pain and posture problems were made worse by sitting so much.
“We tend to hunch forward and round our back when we sit,” she said.
In addition to physical therapy and stretching exercises at home, since 2017 she uses an adjustable standing desk at work and added Titan Fitness, an under-the-desk treadmill, last year.
“By virtue of moving forward and standing, it brings your spine into better alignment and opens your chest and retracts your shoulders and just brings you in a better posture,” Daniel said, “in addition to all the benefits of walking and increased movement.”
The DeskCycle Ellipse also can be used to keep your legs moving at your desk to reduce stiffness and back pain during lengthy sitting sessions at work. It is a miniature elliptical bike that fits under the desk. This cycle is designed to be used while sitting (not standing) for long periods of time at low to medium resistance. There is tension adjustment to make the cycle more challenging, and the progress made on the cycle can be counted as exercise. Calories burned, distance and activity time can be inputted into a Fitbit or by using its online site.
This device is quiet, not too big or heavy and portable. I have been using it for several weeks, in addition to getting out of my seat as much as possible. Stiffness is mostly eliminated when I leave my chair, and my legs feel as energized at the end of a day as they do at the beginning. And though I always have cold legs during the winter, I have not needed to use a portable heater under my desk.
“The DeskCycle definitely can help you burn more calories, lose weight, and increase blood circulation,” said Trevin Colburn from 3D Innovations, developer of the Ellipse and other exercise products, “which is great for your heart and keeps you more attentive throughout the day.”