Office worker
An office worker sitting at a desk. Photo via Pixabay

When you think of something that could put your health at risk, you probably don’t think about your chair at work. But according to researchers, it’s one of the biggest potential threats to your health.

With over 80% of U.S. jobs being mostly sedentary, many Americans spend a lot of time glued to a seat. In fact, the typical office worker may spend up to 15 hours per day sitting. All that sitting can have significant negative impacts on health — sometimes referred to as “sitting disease.”

Dangers of Sitting Too Much

Research has linked prolonged sitting to a number of health concerns, including an increased risk of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, cancer and early death. The amount of time spent inactive may even be a predictor of cognitive decline and dementia for middle-aged and older adults.

As our society increasingly shifts toward more screen time and less physical exertion involved with our daily tasks, we need to look closely at the effects that might have on our long-term health and function. You may be thinking, “But I exercise several times per week.”

Unfortunately, you cannot undo eight hours of continuous sitting with a workout. Even high levels of physical activity following prolonged sedentary work does not offset negative health consequences, especially in those who sit for over 8 hours per day.

Breaking the Sitting Cycle

Sitting can be inevitable, especially at work. And while standing desks are great — you’re likely to move around more and they can help decrease back and hip pain — they’re not a full solution. Standing in one place is also a sedentary activity with the same health risks as sitting.

However, simple modifications to your routine can make a big difference.

Aim to build more movement and activity into several segments of your day. Incorporating a total of 20 to 40 minutes of physical activity throughout the day to break up continuous sitting and standing can help offset some of the health risks of prolonged sedentary time.

Based on what your job permits, set a timer to remind you every 30 minutes to 2 hours to get up and move for at least 3 minutes. Consider timing these breaks as a chance to do something you wanted to do anyway — get a cup of coffee, grab a snack or spend a few minutes stretching.

If this is difficult to accomplish, make sure to incorporate at least 20 minutes total of physical activity before work, during lunch and after work. Park farther away from your destination to increase your walking distance or take the stairs instead of the elevator.

Sitting can’t be avoided completely. But adding more movement and physical activity throughout the day is the best way to combat serious health risks associated with prolonged sitting.

Ashley Ennedy is an occupational medicine doctor with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group.