There has been increasing interest in the risk and dangers of sitting for long hours at work. Individuals are concerned about their own health and companies are probably thinking about potential liability. While there is little doubt that extended periods of minimal activity, whether at home or work, is not a good idea, most people don't understand why it is bad for their health and what they should do. According to scientists from Kansas State University in the US, the frequency of movement at work is more important than the duration. This is good news as it means very short breaks, perhaps only minute or two, are effective in preventing the physiological changes that accompany lengthy periods of sitting.
The researchers identified that when people sit for a long period of time, the body turns off an enzyme called lipoprotein lipase. This enzyme helps us to use fat for energy, so when it is turned off or down the fat (triglycerides) in the blood can't get out of the blood and into the cells to be used for fuel.
The other thing that happens to compound this is that sitting for long periods of time will actually reduce insulin sensitivity and increase circulating triglycerides. So not only do triglycerides get stuck in the blood, but there are more of them there to get stuck. These two things are highly associated with poor chronic health in the long term.
The researchers from Kansas found however that encouraging people to move often, even for small periods of time, stopped lipoprotein lipase levels from dropping and that lots of little changes in a daily work routine can add up to a big change.
Their advice was to get up and stand or take a walk at least once an hour. When it comes to sitting time, frequent interruptions is what was most important. They suggested people break up prolonged bouts of sitting by getting up and moving, even if only very briefly, throughout the day.
I typically spend a couple of days in an office setting; here are some things that I do to increase the amount of incidental activity I get on those days.
Send work to a remote printer - there is a printer in our office but I make a point of walking to another printer in a communal area to collect any printing that I have done.
Use a toilet/bathroom on a different floor - there is a toilet directly opposite the door to my office but I make a point of using those down the stairs. Depending on how much water i remember to drink during the day this can mean an extra 4-6 climbs up two flights of stairs. And if there is none else on the stairs i will run up them.
Walk to talk rather than phone - it is so easy to just hit the autodial and speak to someone in the building, but if the conversation is going to be for more than 20 seconds I will walk to their office to talk to a colleague. I'll also walk rather than drive to see one group of staff who are located about 800 metres away (not that I have to go there very often).
Stand up when on the phone - it's not always possible but if I am using my mobile I will often get up and walk while I am talking to someone. If your job involves a lot of time on the phone, this could add up to quite a bit of extra movement in a day.
Other ideas include parking further away from work, organising walking or standing meetings or arranging to go for a walk at lunchtime.
While these activities are not likely to be at an intensity that you are going to increase your fitness significantly, by keeping your lipoprotein lipase levels up during the day you are encouraging the cells to burn fat for fuel and from both a weight management and health perspective that's a good thing.
So start adding extra movement into you day. Not only will you be healthier but you will have more energy and feel less lethargic after a busy day at work.
Article Author: David Beard, Calico Exercise Physiologist and Healthy Ageing expert