Three simple ways to combat the health risks of sitting at a desk all day

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Sarah Biddlecombe

Chances are, if you have an office job, you spend a good chunk of your day sitting: sitting at your desk, sitting in meetings, sitting your way through presentations. Our inwardly lazy selves have never had it so good.

However, if you work a classic 9-to-5 (which inevitably becomes a classic 9-to-whenever-you-can-switch-your-emails-off), and spend five of your seven days a week sitting at work, the implications for your health can be pretty serious.

So serious, in fact, that those of us who sit for extended periods of time are at almost double the risk of dying young compared to those who don’t, according to the findings of a new study.

The study, by academics at Columbia University, analysed the health of almost 8,000 adults aged 45 and older and concluded that those who frequently spent up to 90 minutes sitting down were most likely to die young, compared to those who spent less time on their behinds.

And frighteningly, the research supported the World Health Organisation’s warning that even cycling to work in the morning and hitting the gym at night isn’t enough to counteract the negative health impact of remaining deskbound for the rest of the day.

The study led researcher Monika Safford to conclude that “sitting really is the new smoking”, with a global 5.3 million people dying every year due to inactivity leading from sitting, compared to the 5.1 million people who die every year from smoking-related deaths.

“We need creative ways to ensure we not only cut back on the amount we sit, but increase regular bursts of activity,” Safford added to The Sun.

So, if you spend most of your day chained to a desk, what can you do to offset the effects to your health? 

Here are three tips recommended by the experts:

Take regular breaks

The study from Columbia University concluded that the impact of sitting all day could be dramatically reduced by taking a quick, moving break every 30 minutes.

Which gives you the perfect excuse to get up from your desk and move around every half hour – grab a coffee, make a tea round or join in with a little water cooler gossip. Just make sure you’re up and moving, even if only for a brief period of time.

Try a standing desk

The research about the health benefits – or otherwise – of using a standing desk have been pretty inconclusive so far.

But even if standing at your desk all day doesn’t quite qualify as exercise, research shows it can still help reduce the amount of time you spend sitting, potentially helping to offset the health issues related to inactivity such as Type 2 diabetes, stroke, heart disease, cancer and dementia.

Grab a pedometer

Numerous studies have shown that people with sedentary lifestyles – such as those who spend most of their days sitting at a screen – can boost their wellbeing and become more active by wearing a pedometer and setting movement goals for themselves.

And if you need any further proof, an analysis of 26 studies on the topic concluded that those who wore pedometers walked an extra 2,000 steps per day compared to those who didn’t, and had their energy levels boosted by 27%.

Images: iStock


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Sarah Biddlecombe

Sarah Biddlecombe is an award-winning journalist and Digital Commissioning Editor at Stylist. Follow her on Twitter