Prolonged sitting, without frequent standing or walking breaks in between, is emerging as one of the most serious health hazards of the 21st century! In fact, doctors and cardiologists today are counting prolonged sitting among leading risk factors for cardiovascular and other diseases, much like smoking and high blood pressure.
While the ill effects of sedentary lifestyles have been well-known for quite some time now, recent research has concluded that even people who exercise daily face increased health risks if their jobs and lifestyles require them to sit for long hours at a stretch.
According to Dr Amar Singhal, Senior Interventional Cardiologist and Head, Department of Cardiology, Action Heart Institute, Sri Balaji Action Medical Institute, New Delhi, the number of hours you sit at a stretch is directly proportional to the risk of cardiovascular disease including heart attacks and stroke.
Most urban professionals today spend more than half of their waking hours sitting at work, or commuting, and in front of computers or televisions at home. The duration of sitting sometimes extends for hours at a stretch. New evidence suggests that such people face a significantly higher risk of mortality from cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and even cancer, even if they exercise daily or head to the gym at the end of the day.
Physical inactivity has been identified by the World Health Organization as the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality causing an estimated 3.2 million deaths globally.
“Most people believe that prolonged sitting hours will not be hazardous if they exercise 30 minutes daily. However, we now have evidence to conclude that daily exercise does not undo the damage caused by long hours of sitting at a stretch. In addition to 30 minutes of exercise daily, we need to break from the sitting position every hour for a few minutes to make sure our body retains its healthy functioning processes.
“Apart from ensuring 30 minutes of moderate exercise daily, we also need to find ways to become less sedentary at work by adopting simple measures like getting up from the chair and walking around the workplace every hour, incorporating standing work stations in offices or conducting meetings while standing,” says Dr Amar Singhal.
Healthy blood circulation is key to several health parameters. In people who sit for hours at a stretch, blood circulation remains slow for extended periods of time daily. This makes the heart arteries more prone to clogging, causes elevated cholesterol and high blood pressure. At the same time, sedentary habits are also associated with declined insulin response, making an individual more prone to type 2 diabetes.
“Unlike two decades back when a genetic predisposition was the leading risk factor for cardiovascular disease, today poor lifestyle habits are the main driver of an individual’s risk. The bane of sedentary lifestyles is upon us. Most of us spend around 8 hours sitting at a stretch at work; then we again sit in our vehicles or in public transport while riding home. Once home, the television sets are waiting for us. Obesity, diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease are a natural corollary. This is why we are also witnessing an increase in incidence of heart diseases in young men and women,” adds Dr Singhal.
Tips to Become Less Sedentary at Work:
Park your car at a distance from your office, so that you walk at least 15 minutes on your way to work and back
Make sure to stand up from a sitting position once every hour and take a five-minute walk around the workplace
Stop using the intercom, walk to the colleague you want to talk to
Ask your office administration to install standing workstations to allow employees take frequent breaks from sitting
Avoid taking phone calls while sitting, make it a habit to walk around the desk whenever you take a phone call
Ensure 30 minutes of exercise – walking, jogging, gyming – at least five days a week