Office work is doing a number on us. Even regular workouts at the gym can’t undo the damage caused by up to 15 hours of sitting every day…in cars, on trains, at your desk or watching Netflix.
Our bodies aren’t designed for the sedentary lives that most of us lead. For eons we were hunters and gatherers, and we needed to keep moving just to survive. The corner deli and takeout weren’t options!
When we move, it breathes life into each cell─ from head to toe─ triggering important processes that deliver energizing nutrients in the form of glucose, fats, protein vitamins and minerals. The more inactive we are, the more inefficient and stalled those processes become, exposing us to internal, disease-causing toxins. Our bodies become polluted, like the standing water in this photo.
Those trapped toxins increase inflammation and place stress on virtually every internal system. This can shorten life spans, even for those who are apparently fit.
Paying the Price
By now, you’ve probably figured out that chronic inactivity, especially prolonged sitting, can be devastating to your physical health. There’s ample evidence that it can lead to type 2 diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure, heart disease, chronic pain and more.
Just a couple more depressing facts before we move on to the good news. (Spoiler alert: There’s a lot you can do to maintain your well-being!)
Your mental health can be affected too. Though there could be many contributing factors, if you ever have trouble concentrating or thinking clearly, or feel moody, irritable, lethargic or depressed (and who hasn’t?), too much sitting is a likely culprit. That’s why you feel so much better after exercising.
Do you exercise regularly, maybe even every day? Well, guess what? You could still be considered sedentary if you’re inactive for hours afterwards.
That’s why I recommend a minimum of five minutes of vertical time for every hour that you’re seated. Standing, walking or doing chores all count. Also remember to take 30-60 second stretch breaks several times daily, and consider getting a sit/stand desk.
I encourage you to think in terms of overall movement, which includes, but is not limited to, your fitness regimen.
I once had a client who suffered from chronic back pain. His job had him glued to the computer screen, so we developed a plan to regularly get him out of his chair and moving. But he was so hyper-focused that he’d forget to take breaks, and the backaches worsened.
So we devised a system of cues, such as setting his cell phone timer to alert him to change position every 15 minutes. We worked on stretches he could do at his desk. Ultimately the pain retreated.
Cost of Isolation
But you need to stay vigilant. I notice subtle changes on days when I’m more tied to the office than usual. I regularly bring my dog to work, which gets me outside at least twice, brightening my mood and boosting my energy. On the other hand, when my wife keeps the dog, I become emotionally sluggish. Those extra footsteps, the sunlight and sidewalk socializing make a difference.
I often advise clients on where and how to fit more physical activity into their task-driven schedules. Twenty-first century work practices are at odds with the way we’re made and can cause lasting damage. We need movement, daylight and human contact to optimize our emotional and physical well-being.