We were once creatures who chased after our food until our prey collapsed from exhaustion. These days, we mighty humans often can’t be bothered to take the stairs. Since we’ve traded our spears for computers, it's easy to see how our overall health maintenance might suffer.
Before the 21st century, everyday life was demanding. Jobs were commonly blue-collar and labor-intensive. In contrast, today many of us are members of a workforce that encourages a stationary lifestyle, which makes it difficult to maintain an adequate level of activity every day to support our health maintenance.
In addition to reducing your vulnerability to health issues, being more active throughout the workday – whether you go into the office or you #workfromhome – may also have noticeable effects on your mood, productivity, and capacity for creativity.
Conversely, sustained inactivity has negative effects on our health and well-being.
The Seriousness of Being Sedentary
The dangers of living life one seat at a time are very real. While some effects are more long-term, others are short-term and can make you less sharp in the moment.
Short-Term Effects on Health
When you aren't moving enough, your blood has a tougher time circulating through you body. "A fixed working position squeezes the blood vessels in the muscles, reducing the blood supply to the working muscles just when they need it the most," say the experts at the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety. Furthermore, "an insufficient blood supply accelerates fatigue and makes the muscles prone to injury."
Reduced circulation can affect your body in a number of ways, but none more significantly than the slowing of circulation to the legs. Sitting for long periods can lead to blood clots, swelling of the ankles, and joint pain.
More seriously, when blood clots form in your legs, they can lead to deep vein thrombosis. If a clot releases, it can obstruct veins leading to serious health emergencies.
Fuzzy thinking is another short-term effect of remaining stationary for too long. Fuzzy thinking is caused by reduced circulation when the brain isn't receiving enough blood.
Bad posture can exaggerate this effect on your brain, as veins and arteries running along your spinal cord can become pinched.
Furthermore, the hunched position you may sink into after long periods of sitting compresses your chest cavity and your lungs, which makes it more difficult to breathe deeply, reducing the amount of oxygen your lungs can absorb.
In order to keep your edge, it pays to get off your duff and take a hike.
Long-Term Effects on Health
Naturally, the repetitive exposure to the short-term effects of being sedentary leads to long-term effects to our health maintenance.
Heart disease can develop because of the decreased circulation throughout your body. Slower blood flow means that lipids have more of a chance of clogging your heart. Over time, this can lead to coronary heart disease.
Moving does more than keeping the juices flowing through your body. Physical activity burns calories and sugar. The less you move, however, the less sugar you are burning, which puts you at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Also, excessive inactivity can lead to loss of muscle and bone strength. Unfortunately, the amount of time that you spend sitting everyday usually far outweighs the amount of time you could possibly exercise effectively to combat the effects.
Worse still, a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute analyzed 43 cancer studies and found that a prolonged sedentary lifestyle is associated with increased risks of certain types of cancer.
Here are some methods we can use to implement more physical activity into our lives.
How to Combat Sedentary Behavior
Even for people in a position where cycling to work isn’t in the realm of possibility, there are many ways to increase your activity throughout the day.
The key is getting religious about your breaks from the desk and fitting in intermittent periods of activity between work and leisure time.
Identify Your Baseline
Start by setting daily goals for yourself. While Fitbit perpetuated the belief that we all need to be walking 10,000 steps per day, that may or may not be your “magic number” to maintain your health and well-being. At first, anything that's more than what you currently do is a great goal.
Wear a pedometer – like a Fitbit, Apple Watch, or a simple step counter – for a week to determine your baseline average step count. Then shoot for increasing that number by 500 steps per week until you're up to your ultimate goal, whether it be 10,000, 20,000, or even 30,000 steps.
Set the bar high and gradually work toward it, celebrating every win along the way.
You Can Combat Sedentary Behavior
Disclaimer: You don't have to break your back or sacrifice sleep to reduce the amount of time you spend in the seated position.
First of all, if your company doesn’t already provide you with a rising desk so you can stand and work, ask for one. This is by far the easiest way to maintain your current routine while getting some time out of the chair.
A great method to balance the time spent sitting and standing is the 30-30 rule: 30 minutes in the seat followed by 30 minutes standing. Setting a timer on your phone to remind you to change up your position will help you to turn it into a habit.
Another effective way to cut your chair time is to have walking meetings with clients or co-workers. Particularly if you conduct meetings over the phone with remote team members, grab your earbuds or AirPods and head out for a walk around the building.
Not only does walking while talking keep your brain and legs engaged, but also you'll be amazed at how quickly you reach your 10,000 steps. If your boss balks at the idea of walking meetings, remind him that physical activity paired with brainstorming has been tied to increased creative thinking.
Getting outside of the box leads to thinking outside of the box. This routine has been a cornerstone of success for many innovators, including Steve Jobs, who said taking a long walk was his preferred way to have a serious conversation.
Your Company Can Combat Sedentary Behavior
Companies can do their part in motivating their employees to keep active throughout the day as well. By partnering with other local companies, employees can be incentivized to get out and move on their lunch breaks.
Local business partnerships – such as in the form of an exclusive discount for company employees – with nearby restaurants that employees can walk to gives employees incentive to walk to lunch and gives local shops increased business.
If your company doesn’t have an in-house gym, suggest a partnership with a local spinning, Zumba, yoga, or Pilates gym to offer discounts or free classes for company employees.
Better still, if your company offers an employee engagement program, employees can rack up points for participating in these healthy partnerships and redeem points for in-demand prizes (like extra PTO and concert tickets!).
Staying Active for Health Maintenance
Essentially, living a less sedentary life is not about offsetting the amount of time you’ve sat throughout the day with a single hard workout at the gym. Reducing your overall seated time and staying active in some capacity throughout the day is the key.
Many believe that maintaining health and well-being while hitting deadlines are inherently conflicting goals. However, with a little creative thinking, they don’t have to be. Find what works for you based on your (home) office environment and implement that into your daily routine.
If you could design your ideal day, what would you do to get up and moving? Tell us in the comments below!