10,000 steps!! Who has time for 10,000 steps? You’re not a mail carrier or a RN. You sit at a desk every day. Occasionally you move to a conference room but for hours at a time you are chained to your office chair. You’re not looking for a career change but you worry about the health risks of sitting all day. You can’t help but think…
Is my sedentary desk job killing me?
You’ve probably seen the headlines: sitting is the new smoking. There are two high profile studies that seem to back up this claim. Both aren’t recent but they are big and long-term, good things when it comes to research.
First came a study from the American Cancer Association and published in the American Journal of Epidemiology in 2010. The researchers found that women who reported sitting for six or more hours per day were 37% more likely to die during the study vs. women who sat less than three hours a day.
Then there was a 2012 study in the British Medical Journal that found when people sat more than three hours a day it reduced their life expectancy up to two years.
So much for your plans to binge watch Big Little Lies this weekend.
Don’t panic! There is better news and it lies in the middle ground. You don’t have to get 10,000 steps to avoid an early death but you do need to make some effort to move each day. There are three simple strategies you can use to beat the harmful effects of a desk job: NEAT, timing your exercise and kicking up the intensity of your workout.
NEAT stands for non-exercise activity thermogenesis. Or, as Dr. James Levine says in his book Move A Little, Lose A Lot, “the calories you burn living your life”. That means any movement, from taking the stairs instead of the elevator to bouncing your knee up and down while you file expense, reports helps.
Dr. Levine’s research says by increasing your NEAT you can lower your risk of heart disease and diabetes and burn more fat. If you can stand up while you take a phone call or walk down the hall instead of emailing a co-worker, he says you can stave off the some of the health risks of a sedentary job.
Frequent small movement breaks are even more helpful if you time them right. Studies have shown that walking just one hour a week (which can be divided up into 10-20 minute segments) lowers your risk of heart disease by 33%. If you’re worried about type 2 diabetes time your walk after your meal. A study in New Zealand found that a 10-minute walk after a meal could lower blood sugar up 12%. If your doctor is waving a prescription for metformin in your face, taking a 10-minute walk after lunch and dinner could be huge for you.
If you’re exercise routine is mostly walking or light activity like yoga, you may want to consider kicking up your workouts a notch. A recent study in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine looked at Navy workers with desk jobs. They found when the workers did 30 minutes of moderate to intense exercise daily they lowered their blood pressure, increased HDL cholesterol (that’s the good kind!) and kept belly fat at bay. Making time for a focused 30 minutes of higher intensity activity may be the key if you truly can’t break away from the desk during the day.
Using one or all of these solutions for fighting the harmful effects of sitting all day can make a difference. You’ll see the difference not just in your health numbers but also in how you feel. Think about how stiff you feel after hours in your chair? If you stand periodically you will notice a difference at the end of the day. That 10-minute walk will wake you up and recharge your brain for a productive afternoon. Use your activity tracker to help you remember to get up, not make you feel guilty about your step count.