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Sitting and Your Health


One of the reports, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, cite 47 studies that look at the health effects of sedentary behavior. The report indicates that people who sit for long periods of time may have a higher risk of dying from all causes. The study suggests this is true for people who exercise as well as those who don’t, though it’s worse for those who don’t.

Given that most people have no choice but to sit while working, the report left most people feeling helpless and unsure how to mitigate the negative effects of working at a computer every day.

Then, a new study from the UK suggested something different. According to the International Journal of Epidemiology, scientists indicate that “health risks are associated with absence of movement rather than the time spent sitting itself.” In fact, scientist and co-author Melvyn Hillsdon from the University of Exeter says, “Any stationary posture where energy expenditure is low may be detrimental to health, be it sitting or standing.”

Does this mean that anyone who has turned to a standing desk to avoid sitting is also doomed? Not necessarily.

The point is to move, and not stand or sit still for too long.

Hillsdon and his colleagues tracked the health of 5,132 people over 16 years to see how their sitting, standing, and exercise habits affected their mortality risk. After controlling for a number of factors, including smoking, alcohol consumption, diet, and body mass index (BMI), they found no link between participants’ overall mortality risk and how long they sat, whether at work or during leisure time.

The authors did state that study participants lived and worked in London, a city that requires a lot of walking and standing on subways. And this activity, they conclude, may offer protection from the harmful effects of sitting for long periods during the day.

So rather than worry about time logged at your desk while you’re at work, consider how you can expend energy when you’re not there. Also consider how you can weave movement into the day—getting up at regular intervals to stretch, and taking brisk walks during breaks or at lunch. There are apps that can remind you to stand or move every hour. You can also set reminders for yourself on your phone or computer.

Put simply: if you sit during the day, take care of your health by making time to move.

Quick Tip for Better Posture While Sitting

Turn up your palms. Yes, it’s that simple.

When working at a desk during the day, take a break from typing and turn your palms up toward the ceiling in your lap. You will likely feel an immediate change in your shoulders; if they’re slouched, they will turn back. Your spine will straighten.

Try this simple exercise often to alleviate back and neck strain.

This article first appeared in the January 2016 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter and the Spring 2016 issue of Chinese Health Initiative Wellness eNewsletter. Learn more about the Chinese Health Initiative. ​

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