Dead Man Sitting: Are Office Workers Really Doomed?

I have always followed the research on sedentary lifestyles and its correlation with disease and obesity—as a casual observer.

It is always troubling to see how many people are falling victim to unhealthy lifestyle choices (sigh, not me). At times a glimpse of the latest obesity statistics in the headlines has prompted me to send a forward to an afflicted family member, or shoot a quick message to a friend that I know has been slacking at the gym: “Time to step up the cardio or else you’re going to look like this, man.”

That’s why I was shocked to read that recent research confirms a sedentary lifestyle is correlated with higher incidences of not just obesity, but cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer—and basically anything and everything that can slowly kill you, regardless of whether you exercise on a regular basis. In short, compensating for sitting around all day with a one hour high intensity workout at the gym is no defence; all office workers are doomed. 

There is Hope: How to Avoid Death by Office Chair

Still in a state of shock, there was only one person I could bring myself to call, Occupational Therapist Matt Gereghty. 

Not only does Matt know a thing or two about workplace health and safety but since I had a sinking feeling that the news was going to be bad I needed someone who could give me the prognosis with a side of humor (If you’ve read Matt’s blog, i.e. “Your wrists are like baby squirrels” you’ll understand).

Confirmed: Sitting All Day is Killing Us

 “The trouble with prolonged sitting,” Matt tells me, “is that it puts the majority of our body into sleep mode and while seated, our largest muscles groups (our body’s engine) are essentially turned off. This has a profound effect on our energy expenditure and metabolism.”

“The fact that we are exposing ourselves to eight hours of low metabolism every day at the office, then one hour for the commute, two hours of television watching, etc. means that over time, our body is going to adapt to these horrible conditions – this is when we start to see health problems like obesity, diabetes, heart disease and even cancer,” he added.

Also Confirmed: Standing All Day Isn’t Great Either

“The research confirms that daily exercise is not fixing the problems caused by over-sitting. What we need in order to stay healthy is frequent bouts of non-exercise activity time in order to avoid some of the detriments. That’s why I usually suggest that people sit as little as possible,” says Gereghty.

“I love the idea of standing desks – but replacing eight hours of sitting with eight hours of standing is not a good idea either. The sweet spot is somewhere in between; or to spend time alternating between standing, walking and sitting,” he noted.

Tips for Staying Healthy in the Office Environment

You don’t have to just sit there and die. Matt Gereghty’s top three tips for surviving your office:

1. Look for Opportunities to Stand Up throughout the Day

Matt recommends taking a long hard look at all of one’s daily work activities to seek out opportunities to stand up and or walk around. How about turning your next meeting into a “walk and talk”? You can also try standing up while answering phone calls or reading documents. “If you have a standing desk, use it!” Exclaims Matt.

2. Take Frequent Breaks to Fire Up Your Metabolism

You don’t even have to necessarily “take a break,” simply use the stairs rather than the elevator to get to your next meeting. “Even better,” says Matt, “try some squats or push-ups – whatever your level of office embarrassment will allow.”

3. Drink Enough Water

Something you probably already do anyway. Drinking plenty of water balances bodily fluids, keeps you from consuming too many calories, and helps to energize your muscles.  The fact that you are sitting on your butt all day is probably why you don’t realize how dehydrated you in fact are.