Why a sedentary life is bad for you

Inactivity and a Sedentary Lifestyle’s Long Term Side Effects

Research has linked sitting for long periods of time and inactivity with a number of health concerns. These include obesity and a cluster of conditions, increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol levels. A sedentary lifestyle and prolonged periods of sitting can also increase the risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer.

An analysis of 13 studies of sitting time and activity levels found that those who are disease free sat for more than eight hours a day with inactivity had a risk of dying similar to the risks of dying posed by those who have obesity and smoke. However, unlike some other studies, this analysis of data from more than 1 million people found that 60 to 75 minutes of moderately intense physical activity a day countered the effects of too much sitting. Another study found that sitting time contributed little to mortality for people who were most active.

It seems clear that less sitting and more moving overall contribute to better health. You might start by simply standing rather than sitting when you have the chance or finding ways to walk while you work.


Here are some practical tips to observe:

  •  Take a break from sitting and stretch every 50 minutes for 10 minutes
  •  Walk with your colleagues for meetings rather than sitting in a conference room.
  •  Fit your workplace with custom designed furniture such as desks that include a treadmill or standing desks.


Custom office furniture such as standing desks are on an upward trend as ongoing studies are showing the numerous benefits of those relatively new and inexpensive trends. Here are some of those benefits:


1. Standing Lowers Your Risk of Weight Gain and Obesity

When compared to an afternoon of sedentary work, an equal amount of time spent standing has been shown to burn over 170 additional calories. That’s almost 1000 extra calories burned each week from simply standing at your desk each afternoon.


2. Using a Standing Desk May Lower Blood Sugar Levels

In a small study of 10 office workers, standing for 180 minutes after lunch reduced the blood sugar spike by 43% compared to sitting for the same amount of time. Both groups took the same amount of steps, indicating that the smaller spike was due to standing rather than additional physical movements around the office.


3. Standing Desks Appear to Reduce Back Pain

To determine if standing desks could improve back pain, several studies have been done on employees with long-term back pain. Participants have reported up to a 32% improvement in lower back pain after several weeks of using standing desks.

Another study published by the CDC found that use of a sit-stand desk reduced upper back and neck pain by 54% after just 4 weeks.


4. Standing Desks Help Improve Mood and Energy Levels

In one 7-week study, participants using standing desks reported less stress and fatigue than those who remained seated the entire work day.

Additionally, 87% of those using standing desks reported increased vigor and energy throughout the day. Upon returning to their old desks, overall moods reverted to their original levels.

These findings align with broader research on sitting and mental health, which links sedentary time with an increased risk of both depression and anxiety.


5. Standing Desks May Even Boost Productivity

In a study of 60 young office employees, using a standing desk for 4 hours each day had no impact on characters typed per minute or typing errors.

Considering that standing improves mood and energy as well, using a standing desk is more likely to boost productivity rather than hinder it.


6. Standing More May Help You Live Longer

This is not surprising given the strong association between sedentary time, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. In fact, a review of 18 studies found those who sit the most are at a 49% greater risk of dying early than those who sit the least.

Another study estimated that reducing sitting time to 3 hours per day would raise the average American’s life expectancy by 2 years.

While these observational studies do not prove cause and effect, the weight of evidence indicates standing more often could help lengthen our lifespan.


NOTE: If you’re going to stand at your desk, keep in mind that using a standing desk is like any other “intervention” — it can come with “side effects.”

For example, if you suddenly go from sitting all day to standing all day, you run the risk of developing back, leg, or foot pain; it’s better to ease into it by starting with 30 to 60 minutes a day and gradually increasing it. Setting a timer to remind you when to stand or sit (as many experts recommend) can disrupt your concentration, reduce your focus, and reduce your efficiency or creativity. You may want to experiment with different time intervals to find the one that works best for you.

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Dr Rami Said

General Practitioner

It’s also true that certain tasks — especially those requiring fine motor skills — are more accurately performed while seated. So, a standing desk may not be a good answer for everyone who sits a lot at work.

Before you plan to exercise any kind of drastic change to your physical activity consider consulting your doctor to reach a better understanding of the bigger picture and your overall needs.

Stay safe, stay healthy and feel better today!