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Sep 2016

Move or die: The ‘sitting’ epidemic in America


man sitting at table doing work

Hundreds of years ago the term ‘work’ involved spending hours under the hot sun; plowing fields, digging trenches, and building structures. Over time, as the world evolved and technology advanced further and further, ‘work’ has a whole new connotation. Today, a majority of Americans spend their work day tucked behind a desk, sitting for hours on end in the same chair. This should be safer than toiling away in fields and climbing scaffolding… right? Well, kind of.

How often do we sit?

Ergotron conducted a survey in 2013 to determine just how often workers are sitting down. Ergotron found that an overwhelming 86% of American workers sit at a desk every day during the workweek. The survey even asked participants to specify why they stand up. Most answered that they stood up only to get food or use the bathroom. If all other non-work activities are factored in, such as TV watching and computer usage, then Americans are sitting for more than 12 hours a day (the majority of which is spent at work). From a broader perspective, it is safe to say that most Americans lead a sedentary lifestyle; meaning we spend little time on our feet.

Consequences of sedentary lifestyles

We sit a lot… so what? Well, it’s not that sitting is bad for you in and of itself. Rather, too much sitting is what can cause health problems. There are a number of health conditions associated with sedentary living. First and foremost, sedentary living is a major contributor to the obesity epidemic across the nation. With obesity comes an increased risk for diabetes, high-blood pressure, and heart disease. The Mayo Clinic completed a study on how many hours humans spend watching television. Those who were seated in front of a television for more than 4 hours a day had a 50% higher chance of death. Not only so, but their chances to develop cardiovascular disease increased by over 100%.

Sitting too much can also be hard on the musculoskeletal system. Those who sit with poor posture can develop a rounded back, weak abdominal muscles, and chronic back or hip pain. When humans sit for extended periods of time they are not strengthening their bones or muscles. Walking, running, and even standing cause your bones to grow thicker and stronger. Extensive sitting can lead to muscle degeneration and weak bone structure.

How to get on your feet

Getting employees on their feet starts and ends with individual commitment. There are general ways in which employers can promote physical activity in the workplace. These ways include wellness programs, training, and awareness.

  1. Wellness programs: Employers who want to get their employees moving may find wellness programs to be a great tool. Implementing a wellness program can improve employee morale, motivation, health, fitness, and safety.
  2. Encourage healthy habits: Creating a work atmosphere that allows for healthy life choices is a great way to improve overall employee health and safety. For example, employers may find it beneficial to allow employees time to work out during lunch, or fund a company-wide gym membership. Providing healthy foods in the break-room and encouraging healthy diet is another good place to start.
  3. Training: Employees need to be aware of the health effects sitting and sedentary living can have. Effective workplace training that stresses the importance of healthy habits - like sufficient sleep, exercise, and aerobic movement - is crucial. This type of training can spur employees to make lifestyle changes, as well as find ways to incorporate exercise into their day.
  4. Make small changes: Small changes can go a long way. Encourage employees to work for a period of time, and then take a short walking break around the office or outside. Doing this 4 or 5 times a day would help reduce the amount of time spent seated.

The long hours spent seated at work are a major contributor to the sedentary lifestyles led by millions of Americans. Standing up and exercising during the workday can improve employee health, and mitigate the medical expenditure of company dollars. The goal of every workplace should be to provide employees with an environment that is conducive to healthy living. If employees are spending their entire work day on their backside, then they are not able to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Make changes today, and get your employees on their feet.

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