Delicious Living Blog

How to keep your desk job from killing you

According to a new study, it’s not just how long you sit at your desk or on your couch—it’s also how many breaks you take that seems to affect your health. Researchers found that prolonged sedentary periods, even in people who also exercised more, were associated with larger waistlines and other risk factors for heart disease and diabetes.

Hiking, running, yoga: They help keep me healthy—and happy. But get me on a work deadline at my computer and I don’t budge for several hours. Lunch? Restroom break? Those are for sissies.

I know endless sitting isn’t good for me, but I can’t afford to get distracted—or maybe I can’t afford not to. According to a new study, it’s not just how long you sit at your desk or on your couch—it’s also how many breaks you take that seems to affect your health. Researchers looked at a large, multiethnic population and discovered that prolonged sedentary periods, even in people who also exercised more, were associated with larger waistlines, lower levels of HDL ("good") cholesterol, and higher levels of C-reactive protein (an important inflammation marker) and triglycerides (blood fats)—risk factors for heart disease and diabetes.

The takeaway: More breaks, more often = better. “Our research showed that even small changes, which could be as little as standing up for one minute, might help to lower this health risk,” said Genevieve Healy, PhD, lead study researcher. Other research has shown that sitting all day reduces blood levels of lipoprotein lipase—which breaks down fat so it’s available to be burned—lowering metabolism and increasing fat retention.

Workplaces should work to incorporate changes that encourage regular movement for staffers, says Healy—but in the meantime, here are some practical ways to get off your butt.

- Stand up to take phone calls

- Walk to see a colleague rather than phoning or emailing

- Have standing meetings or encourage regular breaks during meetings for people to stand up

- Go to a bathroom on a different level

- Centralize things such as trash and recycling bins and printers so that you need to walk to them

- Take the stairs instead of the elevator where possible.

- Go to the kitchen to make tea (if it’s green tea, it’ll also give you a productivity-friendly moderate caffeine buzz, plus antioxidant, weight loss, and other health benefits)

Increased risk of death by sitting too much seems a tragic fate—I'll take a few laps around the office any day.

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