Occupational Sedentariness: A fancy name for “I’m trapped in my chair and I can’t get up!”.

People call me crazy — some even call me ridiculous.  Why? Because I workout while I’m sitting at my desk.
I use Flow, a software program I invented myself.  Every hour, my “virtual coach” pops into my computer screen to guide me through five minutes of exercises that I can do without ever having to leave my chair. Yes, you heard right; I never leave my chair. Not only that, I get a full body exercise, too!
Why did I invent such an apparently oxymoronic thing?  Well, I practically almost had my butt welded to my chair. Just today I spent approximately twelve hours sitting down! If you don’t believe me, just make a quick calculation. Between work, commute, and TV watching, sitting seems to be my main activity. And come on, don’t be so surprised! I’m SO not alone. Half the country sits all day— fact.
I guess we owe this extraordinary phenomenon to technology.

Yes; I strongly believe that we owe it all to the irresistible tempting dual power of technology; one that can increase work efficiency and simultaneously reduce work effort.  Only twenty years ago, writing this article would have demanded a great deal of time and energy: Walking to the parking lot, walking to the library, searching for and gathering books and journals, carrying them to the closest photocopy machine, copying them one page at a time, and walking back to the car. Then we would have to type several copies on a typewriter that did not have the cut, paste, or delete functions of today’s word processors.  Nowadays, all we need is a chair, a computer and presto.

We have it so good…

However, good things always come with a cost and our reliance on machines at work has radically changed the way we live life. We are becoming freaks of nature: completely motile beings voluntarily attaching ourselves to a chair for most of the day. That is what a 2009 study conducted by researchers at the Mayo Clinic suggests. According to this study, on the average, people sit more at work than during leisure. Can you believe that? We finally managed to take the “effortlessness” of the equation to an extreme, and as for many like me, “working” means sitting around all day. If we added the time we spend sitting down at home eating, watching TV and sleeping, we could easily come up with a full daily sedentary time of sixteen to twenty hours.

Wow.

We are becoming a “chair-potato” society. Should we be concerned?

I’ve been investigating the effects of sitting for long hours for the past ten years. During that period of time, research — at first timidly, then assertively, and more recently, alarmingly — has been sending over and over the same warning: Technology overuse — especially the kind that restricts our daily physical activity — can potentially lead to highly undesired health risks. I wanted to focus on the workplace because after all, that’s where we spend most of our waking hours. I began by noticing that an incredibly growing number of jobs require  the employee’s constant presence at their work station, either sitting at a desk; standing still behind a cash register; or operating vehicles, heavy machines, or weird gadgets that only require hand movement. I decided to call this phenomenon “occupational sedentariness,” or a state of body confinement in the workplace. And here are some shocking facts I found within the literature regarding occupational sedentariness:

1.  Occupational sedentariness alone has been associated with the development of chronic back and neck problems, osteoporosis, weight gain and obesity, ovarian and renal cancer, and cardiovascular diseases including thrombosis and varicose veins.

2. The more we sit the more our Body Mass Index and our chance of dying from cardiovascular diseases increases.

3. For every 2-hour daily increments in sitting we increase our risk of  developing obesity and diabetes by 5% and 7% respectively.

4. If we forced ourselves to avoid exercising we increase the chances of developing negative moods, fatigue, and loss of vigor.

5. Lack of muscle contraction due to sitting for long hours suppresses the activity of lipoprotein lipase, an enzyme that helps regulate the metabolism of triglycerides at the muscles level. Low activation of this enzyme increases our risk of developing heart diseases, obesity and diabetes.

What’s more shocking, in my opinion is the fact that all the health risks mentioned above are independent of whether we exercise or not. In other words, exercising an hour a day or swimming in the ocean on weekends will not counterbalance the harmful effects of sitting! Oh no… That means that it is possible to be physically active and highly sedentary at the same time. In fact, scientists have coined this type of lifestyle as the “Active Couch Potato” phenomenon.

The good news is that taking frequent breaks from sitting time helps reduce waist circumference, body mass index, triglycerides, and blood sugar.  I can attest to that!

So, the answer is an absolute, “Yes, we should be concerned.” Now do you understand why I workout at my desk? Call me ridiculous, call me crazy. But I’m happy that you can also call me a “healthy human being.”

If you want to sample Flow, you can do so by clicking here: www.thewavecorporation.com.

Whatever you do, though, please remember: If you spend many hours sitting on a chair and you want to preserve your health, you will have to find a way to get off your bootie and shake it at least once every hour. There’s no other way around it.

Sources:

1. Kominski R, Newburger E. Access denied: Changes in computer ownership and use: 1984-1997. Population Division U.S. Census Bureau Washington, D.C. 1999.

Accessed [May 25, 2006]: http://www.census.gov/population/socdemo/computer/confpap99.pdf

2. Janwantanakul P, Pensri P, Jiamjarasrangsri V, Sinsongsook T. Prevalence of self-reported musculoskeletal symptoms among office workers. Occup Med. 2008;58:436-438.

3. Brown WJ, Miller Y, Miller, R. Sitting time and work patterns as indicators of overweight and obesity in working Australians. Int J Obes. 2003;27:1340–1346.

4 Patel AV, Rodriguez C, Pavluck AL, Thun MJ, Calle EE. Recreational physical activity and sedentary behavior in relation to ovarian cancer risk in a large cohort of US women. Am J Epidemiol. 2006;163:709-716.  Accessed [August, 2009]: http://aje.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/full/163/8/709?ijkey=488bed6f903d80ee2ed1cbed87519eb533cef86c)

5. Tavani A, Zucchetto A, Dal Maso L, et al. Lifetime physical activity and the risk of renal cell cancer. Int J Cancer. 2007;120:1977-1980. Accessed [August, 2009]: http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/cgi-bin/fulltext/114104352/HTMLSTART

6. Beasley R, Raymond N, Hill S, Nowitz M, Hughes R. Thrombosis: the 21st century variant of venous thromboembolism associated with immobility. Eur Respir J. 2003;21:371–376.

7. Mummery WK, Schofield GM, Steele R, Eakin EG, Brown WJ. Occupational sitting time and overweight and obesity in Australian workers. Am J Prev Med. 2005;29:91-97.

8.Hu FB, Li TY, Colditz GA, Willett WC, Manson JE. Television watching and other sedentary behaviors in relation to risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes mellitus in women. JAMA. 2003;289:1785-1791. Accessed [March, 2009]:

http://jama.amaassn.org/cgi/content/full/289/14/1785?maxtoshow=&HITS=10&hits=10&RESULTFORMAT=&fulltextTelevision+watching+and+other+sedentary+behaviors+in+relation+to+risk+of+obesity+and+type+2+diabetes+mellitus+in+women&searchid=1&FIRSTINDEX=0&resourcetype=HWCIT

9. Berlin AA, Kop WJ, Deuster PA. Depressive mood symptoms and fatigue after exercise withdrawal: The potential role of decreased fitness. Psychosom Med. 2006;68:224-230. Accessed [September 2009]: http://www.psychosomaticmedicine.org/cgi/content/full/68/2/224.

10. Patel, AV, Bernstein, L, Deka, A, et al. Leisure time spent sitting in relation to total mortality in a prospective cohort of US adults. Am. J. Epidemiol.2010. Advance Access online: http://aje.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/kwq155

11. Warren TYBarry VHooker SPSui XChurch TSBlair SN. Sedentary behaviors increase risk of cardiovascular disease mortality in men. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2010 May;42(5):879-85. Accessed [July 2010]: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19996993

12. McCrady SK  &  Levine JA. Sedentariness at work; how much do we really sit? Obesity (Silver Spring). 2009; 17(11): 2103–2105. Full text: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2783690/

13. Owen N, Healy GN, Matthews CE, & Dunstan DW. Too Much Sitting: The Population Health Science of Sedentary Behavior. Exerc Sport Sci Rev. 2010

38(3):101-2.

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