According to research, the average American spends 93 percent of his or her lifetime indoors, and 70 percent of that time sitting. (1, 2) After the Industrial Revolution, it became normal to work in jobs requiring less and less movement or physical exertion. Add in readily available cars, smartphones, laptops, video games, and online shopping options—while subtracting sidewalks, gardens, walkable communities, and other features that inspire physical movement—and you’re left with a lifestyle that involves a whole lot of sitting.
Unfortunately, sitting for 40 hours every week, like many of us do in our day jobs, is associated with some pretty horrible side effects—not least of which involves a higher chance of packing on (and keeping on) excess weight. In fact, if you’re trying to lose weight, your desk job may be one of the biggest reasons you’ve been stalled in your efforts. In addition, you may be increasing your risk for other adverse health conditions.
5 Sneaky Side Effects of a Sedentary Job
The time you spend being sedentary is directly related to your risk of obesity and many other health issues. In Mayo Clinic Proceedings, clinicians recognize that exercise can help reduce some of these risks, but that the answer isn’t just in learning how to exercise more—it’s also about figuring out how to sit less. (3)
According to a 2015 review, “Prolonged sedentary time was independently associated with deleterious health outcomes regardless of physical activity.” (4) These outcomes included heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and all-cause mortality (or death for any reason).
One study found that frailty syndrome is a closely connected factor to sedentary lives and disease risk, meaning that means people over the age of 50, as well as those who are already more frail in body constitution, are at more risk for higher disease instance, particularly if they work a job that requires no physical activity. (5, 6)
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization includes physical activity as part of their “Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health,” stating that the common lifestyle including little physical activity “has been identified as the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality.” (7)
Here’s a closer look at some of the health risks associated with sitting for long periods of time:
One well-known issue with a sedentary lifestyle and/or job is obesity. (8, 3) Over a decade ago, clinicians were calling this a “national and global epidemic that warrant[s] increased attention by physicians and other healthcare professionals.” (9)
In addition to being a major health concern in its own right, obesity is a major issue when it comes to future disease risk, too. It’s one of the major symptoms of metabolic syndrome (along with high blood sugar, high triglycerides, high blood pressure and/or low HDL/“good” cholesterol), which is associated with a high risk of diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
2. Heart Disease
Speaking of heart disease—having a job and life in which you don’t move around much is also likely to increase your risk of heart disease while also increasing the risk of fatality if you do develop heart disease. (3, 4)
As much as it’s tempting to slow down as you age, it is extremely important to maintain or begin new physical activity habits into middle and old age to reduce this risk. (10)
Closely tied to weight issues, type-2 diabetes is another potential side effect of a sedentary job and lifestyle. One study found that men watching more than 40 hours a week of TV had a risk of diabetes three times higher than those who spent less than an hour a week on TV. (11)
4. Early Death
It sounds dramatic, but a lack of physical movement and activity can actually result in early death, whether from heart disease, cancer, or any other cause. (12, 4, 7)
Cancer and cancer death are also closely associated with a sedentary lifestyle. (3, 4) One reason for this is that inflammation and cancer are closely related, and limited physical activity (combined with the bad diet that often accompanies it) may contribute to higher levels of inflammation. (13)
The good news is that no matter how much time you’ve already spent behind a desk, turning the health statistics in your favor is relatively easy and simple. By following these three steps, you can lose weight in spite of your desk job and increase your odds of living a long, healthy life.
1. Stand Frequently
Standing throughout the day is a great way to work healthier and combat weight gain due to a sedentary job. Research suggests that, when it comes to reducing obesity, it’s actually more important how often you stand rather than how long you stand, so using a standing desk 3-5 times a day is one great option. It may get your heart pumping just a little more and even increase your life expectancy. (14, 15)
If you find yourself forgetting to stand and walk around consistently, consider setting alarms every 45 minutes or so. Whether you go to a coworker’s desk to chat instead of emailing them or just stand for a few minutes, this can help keep your activity on a more regular schedule.
2. Walk Throughout the Day
Research published in 2015 from The London School of Economics and Political Science found a strong connection between brisk walking and keeping weight down. (16, 17) So instead of taking a break to look at your cell phone, find a friend or two and circle your building a few times. Over 30 minutes per day of energetic walking is associated with lower BMIs and waist circumference than regular sports activities!
If your workplace allows for it, you could even consider walking meetings when it’s possible. Some people even feel more creative when they step outside the office into fresh air.
3. Snack Better
Snacking can be a dangerous part of any standard workday because mindlessly eating typically causes you to make poor choices and eat more than you should.
Before heading to work, be intentional about preparing healthy snacks and try to include fat burning foods and ingredients, such as bone broth, cayenne pepper, chia seeds, chicken, apple cider vinegar, coconut oil, cruciferous and green leafy veggies, fatty fish, grapefruit, grass-fed beef, matcha green tea and kefir. These types of foods support your body’s ability to maintain a healthy weight (and, if you need it, to lose the extra pounds).
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