The Sitting Epidemic

Humans weren’t designed to sit still, so try standing up to your inactive day

There’s a reason why all employees at Apple’s Cupertino, California headquarters use standing desks. It’s because Apple’s CEO Tim Cook has re-popularized the term ‘sitting disease’ and declared ‘sitting is the new cancer.’

Sitting still for most of the day is clearly unhealthy; bodies were made to move, at least part of the day! And with more people recognizing the unhealthy impact of sitting for long periods of time, often at a desk, new and innovative furniture from exercise balls to treadmill desks is popping up in offices around the world, including the popular standing desks.

Jack Callaghan, a professor in Waterloo’s Kinesiology Department has determined the ideal ratio for sitting vs standing is between 1:1 and 1:3.

“Historically what has been preached is a 3:1 ratio, but we found the opposite will give you the benefits of not sitting as much, but not inducing problems from standing,” said Callaghan in an article posted on his department website.

It’s clear that those within the office culture and anyone whose job requires sitting, such as truck drivers, are susceptible to ‘sitting disease.’ And while it’s not a real disease, research has linked sitting for long periods to obesity, increased blood pressure, high blood sugar and abnormal cholesterol levels. Even worse, The American Cancer Society finds that people who sit more than six hours a day increase their risk of death by 19 per cent.

Just wait, there’s more bad news: If you spend the bulk of the day sitting, insulin effectiveness drops by 24 per cent, leading to an increased risk of diabetes, according to research. And if this isn’t enough, the National Cancer Institute states that sitting can lead to significant increases in cancer risk: 30 per cent for colon cancer, 54 per cent for lung cancer and 66 per cent for uterine cancer.

Tips for Staying Active in the Office

  • Luckily, there are several tactics you can implement into your office life in order to fight the dreaded sitting disease. Here are some ideas to get you started:
  • Stand up and stretch every 20 minutes, even if it’s only for a minute or two. Setting a reminder or timer can help.
  • Use your lunch break to walk. It can add years to your life.
  • Take phone calls standing up.
  • Consider organizing team walking meetings (versus sitting in a conference room).
  • Instead of phoning a co-worker, walk to their office and pop your head in.
  • Try a combination of driving and walking to get to work.
    Drive part-way then walk the last kilometer or so.
  • Refill your water every hour. As a bonus, if you keep drinking water all day, chances are that you will also need to use the bathroom more often – another opportunity to walk and move your body.

Is Standing All Day Any Better?

While sitting all day at work is bad for you, standing all day isn’t great either! What’s a poor employee to do?

Some of the most at-risk occupations include restaurant kitchen staff, retail sales people, cleaners, construction and tradespeople, teachers and nurses. Being on your feet for a long period of time puts strain on the cardiovascular system and causes other circulatory problems like varicose veins. It can also cause back pain.

Results of a study of 7,300 people in Ontario published in the American Journal of Epidemiology showed a “… 2-fold risk of incident heart disease, compared with predominantly sitting occupations, over a 12-year follow-up period.”