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To sit or to stand? that is the question

Sitting at your desk all day at work could be killing you faster than your stress levels or your diet.

Sitting is the new smoking they say. Well, I don’t know if anything really compares to the utter stupidity of smoking, but it certainly isn’t doing you a whole lot of good.  Especially as we age. If you are in your forties and you spend a significant amount of your day sitting behind a desk you are seriously putting yourself at risk of the following:

  1. Organ Damage – Muscles burn less fat and blood flows much slower during a long bout of sitting allowing fatty acids to more easily build up and clog the arteries and heat. Regular prolonged sitting has also been strongly linked to high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol. People with the most sedentary jobs are more than twice as likely to have heart disease than those who work in active jobs.  A massive heart attack while sitting at your desk might sound like the worst possible outcome (other than death), and you are probably correct. However, it is not just your heart that pays the price, other organs pay a heavy toll for your lack of movement. Your pancreas, which produces the hormone insulin to help regulate and carry glucose to muscle cells, is particularly bad at sitting down on the job. Idle muscle tissue doesn’t respond at all well to insulin and the pancreas doesn’t stop producing it just because you decide to spend all day sat on your arse. Over time this can lead to insulin insensitivity and diabetes. A little bit of movement every hour can go a long way to  promote  insulin sensitivity.
  2. Cancer – Sitting can increase the likelihood of contracting cancer. Studies have shown that prolonged sitting can lead to a massive increase in the risk of contracting a whole bunch of different cancers. Colon, breast, endometrial cancers have all been linked to sitting for long periods. The science around this is pretty new, but the general theory is that excess amounts of insulin hanging about can increase cell growth – cancer is a collection of abnormal cells. Regular movement boosts the number of natural antioxidants produced by the body. These antioxidants kill off cancer inducing free radicals,
  3. Muscle weakness and degeneration – Beyond the obvious bad back, sitting for too long can leave you with weak abs, flabby glutes and hips like rusty hinges. Have you ever seen an old man or woman walking down the street all bent over like a shrivelled and ancient shrimp, unable to look beyond the pavement directly at their shuffling feet? If you sit at a desk all day and don’t move beyond reaching for a chocolate biscuit then this IS your future. I guarantee that if you haven’t already suffered a back problem then it is only a matter of time before you do. Tick-tock, tick-tock. It could happen at any time. Your back isn’t like other body parts. There is very little warning before your back throws a wheel. One minute you are playing with your kid and the next you are crawling about on all fours in agony trying not to pee your pants. Sitting at your desk all day requires absolutely no muscular strength. Use it or loose it people!
  4. DVT- If you sit the day away with little movement your circulation is going to go down the crapper.  If you are not moving and forcing your body to shunt blood from one end to the other you are going to end up with blood pooling in your legs leading to swollen ankles, varicose veins and potentially even life threatening DVT’s (Deep vein thrombosis). Lack of movement will also cause your bones to weaken significantly leading to osteoarthritis and brittle bones which will be much more open to fracture in later life.
  5. The brain – Even your brain is adversely affected by sitting. If you are inactive for long periods of time you will slow your circulation and this means your brain will not get the oxygen rich blood that it needs to think those big old problem solving thoughts. Lets not even mention the horrific side effects of a DVT that goes on a blood clot rampage though your noggin causing stroke and potentially even death.

But you have to go to work, so what can you do to limit the potential pitfalls of sitting?

There are so many things that you can do to limit the damage of sitting for long hours in front of a PC. I am only going to cover off a few of these here, but I hope that these suggestions go some way to make it easier for you to stay healthy and pain free.

  1. The standing desk – There is some great science out there that suggests regular switching between a seated and standing position can go a long way in reducing muscular skeletal degeneration and  increase circulation. Studies have also shown a correlation between standing and work place mental health. NOW, a little word of caution about the standing desk. To get the most out of standing you need to move about. If you don’t want to pass out and face plant the desk, or floor, or your keyboard then I suggest you take a short walk every few minutes – even a few air squats or wiggling your toes will help. You’ve no-doubt seen those hilarious videos of a soldiers passing out while standing to attention for too long. Blood pooling in your legs caused by gravity is a bitch.
  2. Hydration – We all know how important it is to stay hydrated. Taking a walk to the water cooler every 30 mins can do a lot to keep your legs moving and your blood pumping.
  3. EHOH (Every hour on the hour) – Find a quiet spot like a board room and hit a round of 20 burpees every hour on the hour. If you get found  doing this you might look like a bit of a clown, but who gives a shit you’ve hit 160 burpees today (800 per week, 3200 per month), and you shouldn’t care what your colleagues think because you’re trying to get fit and time is tight. Who knows, you might even inspire some office sloths to get moving. Never feel embarrassed about getting healthy.
  4. Take a lunch break and go to the gym or for a run or do some yoga in the park – This one shouldn’t need explaining. However, for those of you who are slaves to their jobs just remember this. You are not your job. I don’t care how important you are, or think you are, you have time to take an hour in the middle of your day to do something active. If the culture at your place of work is so toxic that you are made to feel like you need to be at your desk for 10 hours a day, LEAVE.  Your health is more important than any fucking paycheck.

Wow, went off on a bit of a tangent there!

I hope you enjoyed this post. Next week I will be kicking off a daily fitness program to help you get ahead in your own training. The next blog will take a look at different programs out their and better ways of training for the over 40’s.

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