IT Employment

Sitting at your desk could be killing you

If your job requires a lot of sitting, you could be putting your health at danger. Here are some steps to avoid this.

Sedentary lifestyles are often in the line of fire in a lot of health studies, but this one is pretty scary:

The American Journal of Epidemiology did a study in 2010 on the correlation between sitting and an individual's physical health. In the study, 53,440 men and 69,776 women were queried on time spent sitting and physical activity. The subjects were all disease free at enrollment. The authors identified 11,307 deaths in men and 7,923 deaths in women during the 14-year follow-up.

The findings:  Women who reported sitting for more than six hours during their leisure time versus less than three hours a day had an approximately 40% higher all-cause death rate, and men had an approximately 20% higher death rate.

(Well, now's a fine time to get this information. Why didn't they tell me this years ago? I would have planned on being a forest ranger instead of an editor/writer.)

So what can you do to combat this if you have to work for a living at a job that requires a lot of sitting? Here are some ideas:

Take frequent breaks. OSHA recommends that workers vary activities, change their position, and take short breaks every 20 minutes to rest muscles and increase blood circulation. Get a standing desk like this. Some studies have shown that working from an upright position may be better, metabolically speaking. (The serious fitness person can even purchase a treadmill desk. These only go about one mile per hour. For myself, I would be afraid I'd be too distracted (trying not to have a heart attack) to concentrate on work, but to each his own.) Have a walking meeting. If your group is kind of small, going for a walk while discussing topics is a good alternative.

For more suggestions, see this OSHA fact sheet.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

52 comments
kelskye
kelskye

I remember having a real estate agent tell me that her company funded gym memberships for all the agents. I assume this was one of those not-so-subtle hints that they needed to care about how they look, but in IT it's a different matter. I raised it with my company, but it didn't go any further than my branch manager. Being in IT means being in a high risk health environment. Exercise helps prevent illness (less sick days), it makes people more productive (do their jobs more effectively), in addition to generally being a good thing. A recent study, for example, found that people who were given 2.5 hours a week to exercise as opposed to doing nothing or not taking that time were actually better workers, having exercise programs should be on every IT manager's minds. At the moment, I'm consigning myself to going for a walk each lunch time (exercise before eating boosts one's metabolism, as well as the benefits of getting fresh air and sun - especially walking where there are trees), and going to the gym in my own time. The data strongly supports the benefits of exercise beyond lifestyle choices or simply trying to look good, so the challenge is seeing how that translates into meaningful action.

Kevin Robinson
Kevin Robinson

I've decided to start standing while I work. Since I'm not gonna ask my company to buy equipment for me to stand, here is my solution: • 2 cardboard bankers boxes, folded/assembled correctly. One directly in front of me on the desk for my keyboard, the other to my right for the mouse. • The flat-panel monitor is a little tougher: a shelf over it (and the fact that I have the video cable stretched as far as it will go) keeps me from moving it higher. So, my work around is to simply put something under the front section of the monitor, tilting it back a little so I can see the screen clearly. & that's about it. During my early hours, when no one is watching, I'll do a few squats and some "balancing" in one place type exercises. Nice change of pace.

william.ketcher
william.ketcher

It's the genes!!! That controls everything. Look into the genes!!

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

and strap in, same cardiac benefits as standing, but you don't stress the muscular or skeletal system as much and the legs don't get tired. Set it up with a quick release catch, something like a parachute catch, and it's easy to get in and out of.

Slayer_
Slayer_

Standing would be tough, but on a treadmill?

hometoy
hometoy

Actually, it is a self-made standing desk. I found an old shelf which I put on top of a couple of paper reams boxes for the keyboard and mouse and used other boxes and paper reams to raise the monitors to closer to eye level. Don't forget to add a box to rest your foot on every so often, so your feet aren't planted on the floor. This makes a huge difference on the back. Unfortunately even after a few months, I could only last for a while so now I usually start the day off sitting, then after lunch raise the keyboard and mouse with a pair of empty paper boxes. The nice thing about this is that after standing for 3+ hours I can deal with the commute home more comfortably.

md345
md345

Let's think this whole "sitting is bad for you" that we're all hearing now. Does "sitting is bad" mean "standing is good"? No. Standing all day is bad for you too. Besides which, if you look at the studies everyone is citing they don't show that sitting is bad, but rather that sitting at a low chair too long is bad for you. Sitting at a low chair is all they studied, so inferring anything about sitting any other way or the supposed virtues of standing is unwarranted. What is harmful about sitting in a low chair is the extreme 90 degree trunk to thigh angle of the body. Increase that angle to 130 degrees by perching on the edge of a bar stool, or a saddle stool (the legs drop down), or a recliner if it were possible to work in that position, and sitting isn't bad for you, but you still don't want to stand all day. Another added benefit of a high saddle stool at a "standing desk" is that it activates your abs without your needing to do anything or think about it, and the upright natural posture you automatically take also allows normal rather than shallow breathing (low sitting closes the chest), another reason these studies say sitting is bad. I think it is well-known that shallow breathing generates stress. So it all depends on how you sit. Don't kid yourself folks, standing isn't necessarily good. The best thing is to shift positions through the day, which is much easier and more natural to do at a "standing desk". Now if you walk in place that is another thing entirely. If I'm walking in place I actually can stand much longer because there is far less stress on the back when moving than when stationary. And no matter what you do you really should put your feet up on your lunch hour so the blood can drain back out of your lower body rather than pooling there.

md345
md345

I recently got a standing desk, and it also happens that my company's HR department has a program where they issue pedometers and we log our daily steps and if we hit a certain threshold (360,000 steps in 10 weeks) we can take a half day off. Well, I figured out that I can walk in place at my standing desk and get 15,000 steps a day and relax when I get home. Who needs a treadmill? Walking in place is just as good and doesn't force your upper body to move as much.

Blue_Oak
Blue_Oak

Good luck with neck pain using the standing desk shown at the site you linked. Your neck will regret looking downward at a monitor all day.

rusty.tyson
rusty.tyson

Hello Toni and Fellow TechRepublic Subscribers Last week, probably in large part due to my current sedentary occupation I experienced severe deep vein thrombosis ("dvt") and huge pulmonary embolism ("pe"); talk about a near-fatal pre-Haloween Fright !! Even though my employer allows and strongly encourages a work-style that includes all the coffee making, (and subsequent relief), standing, position-changing, etc that should be enough to avoid such phlebitis, the weekly three to five long (four to five hours) work sessions that are required to walk/through recalcitrant (it's really the hardware that's at fault (lol) - not the end user who is unable or unwilling to cooperate or follow instructions) situations that can still be enough to push one over the cliff. The fact that I had been running 7.5 [pretend] miles [on elliptical cross-training machines] three and four times a week was certainly a good reason I was in good enough shape to walk away from this Big Scare. I'm still busy getting my blood chemistry in shape so that my "INR" clottability factor will indicate that I'll be less likely to form thromboses in my static lower-legs. I encourage you all to follow Toni's advice as well as possible, and I wish you Good Luck in avoiding what must be much harder on anyone's spouse than it is on someone who is fit and gets to enjoy this kind of near-death experience. I would much rather spend the same amount of bucks for a seat on a space vehicle! Thanks & All th' e-Best Rusty Tyson, Member of NSA, ..., Member of AICPA, MCSA with Messaging, ... xyz Please don't (ha ha) look at my full LinkedIn Profile at http://www.linkedin.com/in/rustytyson

bmoher
bmoher

This concept is not that new. A lot of people noticed a change and didn't like it when their jobs changed from active to sedentary. I mentioned Donald Rumsfeld because when soldiers complained about having to stand for up to 4 hours. he replied that a young man and a soldier should be able to do that. Later ot was revealed that was not that outrageous be cause he had a standing desk and he was in his late 60s at the time.

sysop-dr
sysop-dr

Can someone post a link to the actual study please? This is a good start letting us know there was a study and some of the basic facts but I would like to see more before I go and make recommendations for our people.

dahamby
dahamby

I built a standing desk two years ago and started using it anytime I was using my computer, which was 80% of the time. After a year I liked it so much I had an Amish carpenter build me a much nicer standup desk. Six months ago I moved to a new job and brought my standup desk with me. I still spend about 75-80% of my time standing at the desk and it really makes a difference in how I feel. Got a few looks and questions initially but now people "get it."

ed
ed

Go to the lunch room frequently to make a cup of coffee or tea. Any by doing this frequently you'll have to get up later to go to the restroom. See, two exercises for the price of one! A little more seriously, I've found a number of benefits by making it a priority to get out for a 20-30 min walk at lunch every day. If your building has stairs and is large enough, go for a 5 minute stroll once in a while.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

ergonomic directions and used that way. I've seen that small change make a difference to someone's posture and related health issues. But the real big thing is what they do AWAY from the desk and AWAY from work. I know someone who sits at a desk for close to sixty hours a week working on a computer, when not on holidays. But the rest of the time he's out training for the next triathlon he's entered into. Man, talk about fit, and his wife also works at a desk and trains with him, but she does marathons.

mckinnej
mckinnej

was when we quit hunting and started farming. Pretty much everything about us has gone downhill from there such as poorer health, more disease, higher mortality, and the list goes on. It was mainly due to less exercise and poorer diet. I was just reading a science journal article about it the other day. For example, our average height dropped 5 inches when we switched to agriculture. Our average life span dropped too. I don't remember how much, but it was significant. I had no idea it was that bad. In the end it means our bodies are built for moving around, not sitting on our butts. We should all do more of the former and a lot less of the latter. Lighten up on the cheeseburgers too. ;)

Gothar
Gothar

Unless it was a TR typo, the study says "sitting for more than six hours during their leisure time" Leisure time. Not work. So, elevators, fire drills, activities at the work place, tools monitoring computer behavior, the authors choice of occupation are not related to this study at all. Seems the author of this article didn't really read what the study says before writing this so I guess it's not surprising that no one else commenting did either.

GAProgrammer
GAProgrammer

I mean really?! The report talked about sitting in LEISURE time, not work time. What a horribly misleading title.

Mark2.0
Mark2.0

Many companies have given their employees the benefit of working remotely. With my smart phone in my hand or attached to my body somewhere, I work out during the day five days a week. I never miss a call, txt or email. And if I have a project going on, I plan accordingly (work out really early or after hours). Employers are allowing flex schedules more and more. I hope you can take advantage of that perk, if your company offers it, or if you have the ability to negotiate it.

viggenboy
viggenboy

"Women ....... 40% higher all-cause death rate, and men had an approximately 20% higher death rate" I think you'll find that eventually there is a 100% "All cause Death rate" for all men and women alike..... I think there is some additional data (that adds some sense) missing here and this contradicts the overwhelming evidence that those in white collar employment (typically sitting) have on average a 3.5 year greater lif expectancy that blue collar (typically active) workers. There are far too many extraneous variable involved here to make such a simple deduction.

Thomas907
Thomas907

You could develop medical problems that could cost you financely for the rest of your life.

Werner de Jong
Werner de Jong

- people take the elevators a lot which is disabled during a fire drill -

Werner de Jong
Werner de Jong

Basically as a non smoker I recognize the comments that there is not much activity going on at the work place. We do have some tools installed monitoring our computer behaviour but reading something doesnt trigger the software to alert you to move. The most excersice I get at the office is whenever there is a fire drill and I have to take the stairs down to go outside.

willilaw
willilaw

My Job involves sitting at a desk for around 10 hours a day so to mitigate the health effects i walk to work and back 4 Km each way and spend 30 mins in the Gym at lunchtime. My colleagues here however have a cigerette break every hour . As a Telecom Engineer I miss the days of climbing on to roof tops and Up towers ,,,that keeps you fit!!

SiO2
SiO2

Floating around in a chair causes bone loss and obesity... Oh no wait a moment. ;) I dont see the purpose of this article if its correct. A study done in 2010 garnered 14 years results that imply sedentary lifestyles cause poor health. Well if I'd managed to pack 14 years of lounging around into the last 2 I'd probably not be feeling too good either. Or did they just decide to sit on the results for 2 years to see if the project died of natural causes? Honestly, public health advice is in the toilet. I have OCD and spend up to 16 hours a day in front of a computer. I dont have a car, but I love BurgerKing, KFC and pizzas and eat them regularly. I smoke, a little, but never in the house and I make my own beer so I like a tipple. I dont have many wrinkles, never had spots either - I'm 45, 5'6" and weigh 9.5 stone and have been this way for over 20 years simply because I walk the mile into town and dont sit still when I do sit. Its not difficult to treat your body with respect; walk it regularly and dont eat junk. (By this I mean junk eating, theres no such thing as junk food if its eaten as part of a healthy diet) Keep out of the sun as best you can because it will age your skin, and feeling youthful comes from looking youthful. Best of all, leave that boring desk job and go help people instead.

Chaz Chance#
Chaz Chance#

I might have difficulty getting my HR to pay attention to the linked fact sheet on Laboratory Safety. Was that the correct link? I am right there in the high risk group, so this definately applies to me, but I feel a certain peer pressure, that makes me worried that my colleagues will feel I am slacking if I stop working at the computer every twenty minutes. Does anyone else feel that? The key phrase, repeated frequently in the linked document, is "employers should train workers to..." If they did that then it would be an acceptable practise. The catch is how to get an employer to take notice.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

But I've gotta ask. How cold was that room? At any temperature comfortable for humans to work in, he would have started to stink pretty badly within 48 hours! Unless everybody else in the office had serious sinus problems, somebody would have noticed the smell after a day or two. And Snopes traces it back to the Weekly World News...

gates_clone
gates_clone

Will you rather to die sooner? or later?

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

[i]For example, our average height dropped 5 inches when we switched to agriculture. Our average life span dropped too.[/i] Do you have something to back those assertions up? Height & longevity are generally related to childhood nutrition. Regarding average height, this article from Scientific American (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=why-are-we-getting-taller) states "...over the last 150 years the average height of people in industrialized nations has increased approximately 10 centimeters (about four inches)" and "...examinations of skeletons show no significant differences in height from the stone age through the early 1800s. " The article also points out that the probable reason for the increase in height over the past 150 years is most likely related to improvements in nutrition. This article (http://www.livestrong.com/article/542877-the-average-height-of-humans-over-time/) discusses a 3" loss of height after the Middle Ages, but again relates that to changes in nutrition. On longevity, this article (http://www.livescience.com/10569-human-lifespans-constant-2-000-years.html) notes that the Greeks and Romans who survived childhood were also living into their 70s.

sysop-dr
sysop-dr

Moving from hunter gatherers to farming and industry didn't make us unhealthier or our life spans would not have doubled when we did that. Today an average person in an industrialized society lives well into their 70's but a hunter gatherer that lived to 30 was rare.

gechurch
gechurch

This article leaves a lot of unanswered questions for me. Why was the all-cause death rate 20 percentage points higher for women than men? Why did so many men interviewed die compared to women? 21% of men interviewed died in this 14 year period. That seems high - how old were the people interviewed? Looking only at the all-cause death rate makes me question the validity of these results. Certainly the sample size is good, but what's to say there's not a mix-up of cause and effect? Maybe those sitting for 6+ hours a day are less likely to care about their health. Maybe they're far more likely to be smokers, or obese or whatever. So is it really that sitting an extra three hours a day is having an adverse affect on our health, or is it all the other factors that are the problem?

Vorpaladin
Vorpaladin

There is no question that walking 8 km per day is VERY good for your health. However, take note that the study shows that sitting for long periods increases mortality rates significantly regardless of the amount of physical activity you get at other times. Standing while doing computer/desk work is the only way around this.

Vorpaladin
Vorpaladin

TechRepublic is simply reiterating the results of the study, which have been publicly available for 2 years. A reasonable solution is a standing desk. I use an adjustable powered unit that holds my computer monitor, phone, and paper copy, plus has a table for holding other stuff as needed. Most of the time I have it in the standing position, but I can lower it when I'm just too tired or sore for standing. It is called a "TaskMate".

kwickset
kwickset

It seems you misunderstand your working environment. You don't really have to achieve anything as long as you are seen to be working. Even if you achieve more than your colleagues in less time because of your health breaks the only thing that matters is that you have been seen to be working.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

would have been sucked straight up and away and not had a chance to wander far at all.

Slayer_
Slayer_

Or just no one wanted to say anything

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

I do what I can to prevent problems, but like the man said, "No one here gets out alive!"

md345
md345

I always thought I could compensate for the structural effects of sitting outside of work because I work out pretty hard and even the very muscles I was sitting on, but I found out that wasn't true when I suddenly started having chronic back pain when I hit about 47 years old. I found out the hard way that though your body can take about anything when you're young, you can't compensate for all that sitting. My chiropractor says to stand and stretch for a minute every thirty, but I think that is naive. Since I got a high desk I don't need to see him at all anymore.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Or, as the vultures of death commonly known as funeral directors put it, "embalmed."

Slayer_
Slayer_

What do they do to you when your in a casket for a funeral?

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

have flies past the entrance areas in them due to the flies not liking the cool atmosphere in the conditioned buildings and they leave quick

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

But the maggots and flies would have been a dead giveaway...

kwickset
kwickset

It's the messenger who always gets shot or fired. It is the wise one who keeps his/her mouth shut.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

I would think that would be taking political correctness a bit far! :^0

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

forced me into the right posture, and that helped a lot. However, O know of one fellow who just slouched in his chair, and when he complained of back problems he went to a chiropractor and the issue turned out not to be sitting in his chair like a lout all day, but because he rode to work on a push-bike. Like all the wannbe fitness nits, he got himself a push-bike just like they use for road racing with the low bars etc. Well, they're designed for the rider to be leaning over almost laying on the crossbar to reduce resistance and they only look at the road a few feet in front of the front wheel, which is why so many crash when they have a crash, no one looks that far ahead. Well, in riding in traffic he has to have his head up and looking about, the result is this hurts his neck a lot and that's the problem. To ride in traffic you should be sitting upright with a straight back so you can see the traffic by turning the head a little from side to side, not having to tilt it up at almost 90 degrees and then bend it around. And the twits who ride about in traffic like that wonder why they hit people and things.

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