When we think of dangerous jobs we picture firemen, loggers, lumberjacks and ice road truckers, not office workers. But if your job requires you to spend most of your day sitting, it’s a lot more dangerous than you think.
Sitting may seem harmless, but spending too much time at your desk puts you at greater risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some types of cancer. Sitting for more than six hours a day increases your risk of heart disease by 64% and your chances of getting prostate or breast cancer by 30%, and can reduce your life expectancy by seven years. It can weaken your bones and muscles, reduce your flexibility and slow your circulation.
Why is sitting so hazardous? For one thing, it leads to poor circulation, making it easier for fatty plaques to build
Your pancreas also produces more insulin when you’re inactive. Over time, your body can develop resistance to insulin, leading to diabetes up in your arteries and contribute to heart disease. When your circulation is weak, your body has a harder time ridding itself of toxins and clearing glucose and triglycerides from the bloodstream. Less oxygen reaches your brain, so you may even think less clearly.
When you sit, your abdominals and glutes aren’t being used, which can weaken them. Your hip flexors shorten and tighten, reducing your hips’ flexibility. If you sit with poor posture, you tighten your back, neck and shoulder muscles, increasing the likelihood you’ll strain them.
The health hazards of sitting are a key reason employers should implement fitness programs. The physical activity these programs provide can counteract the harmful effects of too much sitting. They teach employees stretches and brief exercises they can do during breaks between periods of sitting, giving them much-needed bursts of activity throughout the day.
Even more importantly, fitness programs help employees become more mindful of their bodies. An employee who’s learned to exercise and eat right won’t want to keep her body immobile in a chair all day. She’ll be more likely to work small amounts of activity into her day, like taking the stairs instead of the elevator or walking to speak to a colleague rather than sending an email.
Fitness programs also create a culture of positivity in the workplace. At an organization that values employee health, employees feel more comfortable sitting on exercise balls at their desks or standing up to do their work. They may even find creative ways to be more active at work, like holding meetings outdoors while walking. (And they’ll be able to take short stretch breaks every hour without their managers thinking that they’re slacking off, because as we’ll discuss in a later post, healthier employees are more productive.)
Though the facts about how harmful sitting is are alarming, the good news is that it’s fairly simple to combat the negative health effects of too much sitting. Whether or not you have a wellness program (though we strongly recommend you do: read why here), encourage your employees to get up from their desks at least once an hour. Those water cooler breaks won’t just refresh your workers’ minds; they’ll give their bodies a much-needed recharge as well.