Workday Warriors Blog

Why is sitting too long bad for your employees?

Why is sitting too long bad for your employees?

Dr. James Levine, director of the Mayo Clinic- Arizona State University Obesity Solutions Initiative coined the term “Sitting is the new smoking.”  He also follows that up with “Sitting is more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV and is more treacherous than parachuting. We are sitting ourselves to death.”

Those are some pretty heavy words, and he is far from the only person who believes it. But, I want to add a clarification to this dramatic statement. It is not sitting specifically that is killing you and your employees, it is lack of movement that is doing it. You cannot get around these negative health effects by just getting a standing desk. Believe me, you can stand still too.

When you see statements like Dr. Levine, just keep in mind we are talking about eliminating periods of complete non-movement. Non- movement is what research shows can be damaging to your health and body. We like to call it sitting, because most of you are working in front of a computer all day, but remember what we really are talking about is non-movement. Of course, the non-movement does not include sleeping because of it’s restorative effects on the body.

The dangerous health effects of non-movement are many, and include various cancers, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, muscle pain and degeneration.  A study in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity concluded that after following a group of 71,000 people for at least 5 years that a higher amount of total sitting is associated will all-cause mortality, particularly among active adults.

Negative effects on your health

Excessive sitting can wreak havoc on your health. It can contribute to metabolic syndrome, which is a cluster of conditions- high blood pressure, excess body fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol levels that occur together and increase your risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

When you sit for long periods of time your body burns less fat and your blood can begin to flow slower, making it easier for fatty acids to clog your heart. In fact, people with the most sedentary time are more than twice as likely to have cardiovascular disease than those with the least. It also can cause your pancreas to overproduce insulin, which can lead to diabetes. A 2011 study found a decline in insulin response after JUST ONE DAY of prolonged sitting.

Findings presented at the 2015 Inaugural Active Working Summit found that sitting increases several types of cancer also. It can increase your risk of lung cancer by 54 percent, uterine cancer by 66 percent and colon cancer by 30 percent. Scientists believe the reason for the increased risk of these cancers is possibly caused because the increase in the insulin production of the pancreas encourages cell growth. They also believe that regular movement increases antioxidants in your body to fight cancer causing free radicals.

There is also evidence that sitting down after eating can negatively affect digestion. Researchers believe a slouched posture may contribute to several digestive issues such as acid reflux, constipation and even hernias. When you are hunched over your computer your intestines are folded up and that slows the entire digestive process down. This is another reason not to eat at your desk, because digestion is always helped if you can move around after eating, or at least sit with good posture.

Negative effects on your body

Muscularly, the negative effects of sitting exacerbate themselves as limited function, pain and muscular imbalances. Sitting still too long can attribute to a tightening throughout the body, pain in various joints, weak muscles, inflexible spines, injuries and even disk degeneration.

Specifically sitting too long with poor posture can contribute to the two very common muscular imbalances, upper and lower crossed syndromes.

Upper crossed syndrome is characterized by a forward head posture and rounded shoulders. Specifically, there is a weakening and lengthening of the muscles in the upper back and posterior neck and a tightening and shortening of the chest muscles and anterior neck muscles. Unfortunately for desk workers, this muscular imbalance is attributed to long hours sitting in front of a computer. This posture can lead to headaches, shoulder pain, upper back and neck pain. It’s like your computer is literally sucking you into the monitor.

Sitting too long with poor posture can also lead to lower crossed syndrome. This muscular imbalance is a combination of weak glutes, weak abdominals, tight hip flexors and a tight lower back. This imbalance can pull your pelvis into an anterior tilt, thus putting excessive stress on the low back. This posture can lead to back pain, hip pain and knee pain.

Excessive sitting can also lead to poor circulation in your legs, which can cause swelling in your ankles, varicose veins and blood clots. There is also evidence that it may also cause weak bones and even osteoporosis. CITE

Negative effects on your mind 

Unfortunately, sitting too long doesn’t just affect your physical health but can have negative effects on your psychological health too. A study that followed 3,367 state government employees found that there was a significant relationship between psychological distress and sitting. Specifically, those that reported sitting longer than 6 hours per day had an increased prevalence of moderate symptoms of anxiety and depression when compared to people who reported sitting for less than 3 hours per day. Sitting too long can also lead to a “foggy” brain. Science has confirmed that increasing the blood flow to the muscles will also increase the blood flow to the brain too.  So if you are sitting still for too long a period of time, your brain function will slow. This is why going for a brisk outside walk is conducive to a creative and focused mind. If you could use some more focus and productivity at work you may need to get moving.

More research is being done on these health effects currently and in my opinion, we are only at the beginning of finding out how bad sitting hunched over computers is for us. We were never meant to be this sedentary. Too much sitting is not only going to rob you of your vitality as you age and but it could increase your risk of a variety of diseases and health issues too.

You need to find ways to get your employees up and moving throughout the day, if you want energetic, healthy and a productive company! What’s your best idea?


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