By now, many of us know the damage we're doing in sedentary desk jobs. Emerging research shows that sitting for long periods of time contributes to risk of metabolic syndrome, heart attack and stroke risk and overall death risk, among others. Those who sit a great deal also have lower life expectancies, larger bottoms and slower metabolisms.
"Prolonged sitting has been shown to disrupt metabolic function resulting in increased plasma triglyceride levels, decreased levels of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, and decreased insulin sensitivity," Dr. Hidde van der Ploeg, a senior research fellow at the University of Sydney’s School of Public Health in Australia, told TIME's Healthland.
Van der Ploeg and colleagues found that sitting for 11 or more hours per day increased risk of death by 40 percent, regardless of other activity levels.
But given the nature of our work environments, there is often very little that can be done -- even Team Healthy Living must sit for most of the 8 to 10 hours we work in the office each day, and we study this stuff. Unfortunately, research shows that extra-curricular trips to the gym -- running the mornings before work or hitting up a post-office spin class -- can't undo the effects of a day spent on one's behind.
That means the only available option is to remake our work environments. How can you avoid the dreaded effects of the insidious office sit-in?
First of all, it's important to note that standing is no panacea. As Men's Health reported:
Prolonged standing can lead to the development of musculoskeletal disorders, especially in the legs, knees and lower back. While you can stand for as long as it feels comfortable, most experts recommend a 50:50 sit-stand ration.
With that in mind, here are a few strategies to help incorporate more activity during the work day:
Standing desks have been gaining popularity for several years, thanks to a collection of studies finding that working from an upright position may be better, metabolically. The workstations are often DIY, though commercially available desks are also a hit. The key is to make sure that the desk is at the appropriate height for you. According to Wired, it's important to wear comfortable shoes and stand on a soft mat for added support. Men's Health reported that you burn 40 percent more calories while standing than while sitting, but what's more, you may be making profound changes to your endocrine system and blood lipid profile. "Prolonged sitting has been shown to disrupt metabolic function resulting in increased plasma triglyceride levels, decreased levels of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, and decreased insulin sensitivity," Dr. van der Ploeg told TIME's Healthland.
Standing all day also comes with a few drawbacks, such as increased risk of varicose veins and musculoskeletal disorders. Taking regular walking breaks can help your circulation, working to counteract some of those problems. Reported Olivia Judson in the New York Times: A study of people who sit for many hours found that those who took frequent small breaks -- standing up to stretch or walk down the corridor -- had smaller waists and better profiles for sugar and fat metabolism than those who did their sitting in long, uninterrupted chunks. Try to take two breaks per hour, suggests Men's Health. That means getting up for a glass of water, walking down the hall to visit coworkers or just doing a lap around the office perimeter.
Stretching at your desk may be one simple way to keep moving, even as you stay seated. "Sedentary time is best mitigated by lots of frequent movement, even if it's only done for brief periods of time," HuffPost Healthy Living reported earlier this year. Or try some office yoga, which helps relieve tension as it improves your metabolism and burns calories.
Exactly what it sounds like, the treadmill desk allows the user to walk at a slow pace (say, one mile per hour) while working. The writer A.J. Jacobs wrote his most recent book, Drop Dead Healthy, on a treadmill desk and was so enamored that he continues to use it.
The authors of one of the only studies to compare sitting to low-energy exercise points out that the majority of one's calorie burning occurs gradually throughout the day, as opposed to during bouts of concentrated exercise. "Any type of brief, yet frequent, muscular contraction throughout the day may be necessary to short-circuit unhealthy molecular signals causing metabolic diseases," they write. So why not balance on a yoga ball, which helps engage the core by working abdominal and back muscles and also improves balance?
A standing desk isn't the only solution. Since you're aiming for a 50 percent standing workday, that could take the form of walking over to a kitchen counter with your laptop, or taking all your calls on a cell phone. The key here is to have portable communication devices that allow you to work from multiple locations around the office.
One way to easily add a bit of activity to an otherwise sedentary day is to move meetings from the conference room to the concourse. Walking not only burns calories, but it will help you get outside for a dose of vitamin D and a different environment -- and it may even foster a sense of collaboration, according to TLC.