5 ways to stop sitting from killing you
You've seen the headlines: Sitting is killing you! or Sitting is the new smoking! While no one ever believed that sitting at a desk all day was good for you, this latest string of revelations comes from a report by the University in Regensburg in Germany that sitting increases your chances of getting certain types of cancer. This is in addition to the increase in obesity, diabetes and other metabolic diseases, as well as the damage to your skeletal and muscular system associated with sticking to your chair all day.
The findings, which were a little scary, suggested the following: For each day, every two-hour increase in sitting time means an 8% increase in the risk of colon cancer, a 10% risk increase for endometrial cancer and a 6% increase in your chances of contracting lung cancer.
And here's what's really infuriating for people who stay fit even regular exercise doesn't offset the increase in risks associated with being at your desk all day. So if that 6am spinning class isn't actually doing much to counteract the damage of sitting, what can you do to limit the harm you're doing to yourself?
Here are the five things you should incorporate into your desk time to reduce the risks that you are exposing yourself to (since most of us don't have the money or space for a walking workstation):
1. Get your workstation right
The relationship between the positions of your body, neck, hands and feet when sitting have a considerable impact on how you feel by the end of the day. Obviously, maintaining a good posture and symmetrical base are choices, but you can support your choices by positioning your desk, chair and computer correctly.
The basic rules of ergonomics as outlined by the UK's National Health Service state:
- Support your lower back. Get a chair with built-in lumbar support, or buy a strap-on cushion to help you sit in the right position.
- Adjust your chair so that your knees are level with your hips, and you can use your keyboard with your wrists and forearms straight and parallel to the floor. Your elbows should be at the side of your body, so that your arm forms an L shape.
- Your feet should also be flat on the floor. If you can't achieve all of this with your current chair-desk situation, you may need to set your chair higher and get a footrest (old phone directories will do).
- Place your screen at eye level. Again, you may need a stand or phone directory.
- Your keyboard should be directly in front of you when you are typing, with around 10 to 15cm of the front of the desk showing for you to rest your wrists on. Your wrists should not be bent when using the keyboard. You can use a wrist wrest, and it may help to connect an external keyboard to your laptop.
- Keep your mouse as close to you as possible, so you're not extending the muscles of your arm and neck to use it.
2. Change your position regularly
There is a school of thought that says it's not how you sit, but how long you sit in one position that's the real problem. There are many different office chair options, but if you can find a way to switch between, for instance, a regular chair, an office chair and a pilates ball throughout the day, you'll be activating different muscle groups and relieving some of the strain. Likewise, you could sit at your desk, stand at a counter or work in a coffee shop for variety (and good coffee).
3. Take regular breaks
Every time you leave the sitting position, you release and relieve your body. Just taking a brisk walk from one end of the passage to the other will get your blood pumping to your muscles and will reduce the pressure on your organs and skeleton. Try to do this once an hour. And don't eat at your desk.
4. Do desk exercises
When you're taking your hourly break, it can also help to do specific exercises to counter the strain of sitting. You don't need to drop and do 20 push-ups; simply looking up at the ceiling releases your neck muscles and shrugging your shoulders does the same for your upper back. Leg extensions and hip rotations also work wonders for a cramped frame.
Most people know where they are holding tension and how to release it, but if you need some guidance, check out these suggestions from WebMD.
5. Choose to move
While one hour-long exercise session in the morning does little to reduce some of the risks associated with sitting for the rest of the day, keeping active throughout the day does. You may think that you don't have much chance to move around, but if you make mobility a priority, you'll be surprised at how many opportunities you'll find. Take the stairs instead of the lift, walk instead of drive and don't ask other people to get you a cup of coffee while they're in the kitchen. And if you work in a small or home office, you can buy a mini-trampoline for an enjoyable burst of activity during breaks throughout the day.
Unless you can radically change your career, sitting at work is here to stay for most people. But if you accept that this isn't the best thing for you, and look for alternatives or solutions, you'll find that your health, your mental wellness and your lifestyle improves.