For many of us, sitting in front of a computer or in an office is the reality for much of the time we spend at work. A growing body of research supports the view that sitting for extended periods of time can present a serious risk to our health. Professionals must start to become more mindful of the harmful effects of prolonged sitting, and become more proactive about preventing harm.
According to the World Health Organization, having a sedentary lifestyle is 1 of the 10 leading risk factors for deaths globally, with an estimated 25% of adults worldwide not being adequately active to support a healthy lifestyle.
Our seated hours accumulate throughout the day, including the obvious; sitting at the desk at work, and the less obvious; time spent travelling to and from work in a car, on public transport, and watching TV in the evenings.
Sedentary behaviours are those that involve prolonged periods of low levels of metabolic energy expenditure in the body. According to Owen et al (2010), sedentary behaviour is not simply the absence of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, but rather a unique set of behaviours, with unique environmental determinants and a range of potentially-unique health consequences.
Emerging research surrounding the Active Couch Potato phenomenon- where sedentary behaviours (high sedentary time) and being physically active can co-exist, provides food for thought.
Consequences of Sedentary Behaviours
Prolonged sitting and excessive sedentary behaviours have been linked to a wide array of illnesses including obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndromes and cardiovascular disease. As well as these cardio-metabolic risks, links have been also made between sedentary behaviour and certain types of cancer including colon, endometrial and lung cancer risk (Schmid et al, 2014) as well as breast cancer (Shen et al, 2014).
Musculoskeletal pain is also linked to sitting, sustained static postures such as those we adopt in front of our computers load our spine in unfavourable ways and can contribute to neck and back pain. There is also evidence to suggest that sedentary behaviour is linked to higher levels of depression (Zhai et al, 2015) than a more active lifestyle.
How does this affect the Active Couch Potato?
Chronic unbroken periods of muscular unloading associated with prolonged sedentary time may have deleterious biological consequences.
Bey and his colleagues (2003) describe that physiologically, sitting leads to a loss of muscle contractile stimulation, which causes both the suppression of skeletal muscle lipoprotein lipase (LPL) activity (which is necessary for triglyceride uptake and HDL-cholesterol production) and reduced glucose uptake. Thus, increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes (Hamilton et al).
By breaking up our sedentary periods of time by simply standing up more throughout the day, we activate our postural muscles. Although we don’t feel as though we are using these postural muscles, they only need a low-level energy expenditure such as standing to work, which, induces LPL activity which helps prevent cholesterol production.
Is a sit-stand desk the answer?
A very recent systematic review examined the effects of sit-stand desks (SSDs) on six health domains. It found that SSDs were most effective in improving comfort (and reducing levels of reported low back pain), and changing behaviours (more occasions of standing up throughout the day), with these changes having a mild effect on health outcomes, with no changes to weight loss (Chambers et al, 2019).
Take a Stand!
So how else do we get around this excessive sitting sedentary risk factor that is so prevalent in our society?
How much physical activity should we be aiming for?
The World Health Organisation describes the following guidelines;
· At least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity throughout the week, or at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity throughout the week, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity.
· For additional health benefits, adults should increase their moderate-intensity physical activity to 300 minutes per week, or equivalent.
· Muscle-strengthening/ resistance activities should be done involving major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week.
Be Mindful of your Movement
There’s more you can do!
Count your incidental movements, don’t just count your steps.
Choices such as taking the stairs rather than the lift or walking to deliver a message to a colleague at work rather than emailing them, can all contribute to a healthier work life. As mentioned previously, a sit-stand desk is an excellent option to vary your posture throughout your working day in front of your computer.
Take a stand! Don’t be an active couch potato. Take action to avoid these sedentary behaviours and prevent developing these cardio-metabolic risk factors. Remember more movement throughout the day is just as important as your intensive resistance or cardio- workout.
If you need some guidance with your gym program, need some ideas about increasing incidental movement, or are interested in group exercise, SOMA’s experienced personal trainers and array of group classes will help get you moving according to the latest research. Opening later this year. Contact at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you are interested in reading further about this area then below are some of the sources we referenced for the above: