You may have heard it said that “sitting is the new smoking.” Perhaps you dismissed this as hyperbole, but research actually supports the notion that sitting for long periods of time can have a major negative impact on your physical and mental fitness.
According to Dr. Edward R. Laskowski of the Mayo Clinic, prolonged sitting can contribute to “obesity and a cluster of other conditions — increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist and unhealthy cholesterol levels — that make up metabolic syndrome. Too much sitting overall and prolonged periods of sitting also seem to increase the risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer.” Researchers found that those who sat for more than eight hours a day with no physical activity “had a risk of dying similar to that posed by obesity and smoking.”
Mental Fitness Risks
It’s not just physical health either. In a recent UK study researchers found that when individuals were spending more than eight hours a day sitting, even with some exercise, there were adverse mental health impacts. They found a strong correlation between sitting long periods of time and increased instances of depression, anxiety and other mood disorders.
These risks from sitting have always been a negative side effect of office work. Working remotely, however, and the attendant struggles with taking breaks makes remote workers even more susceptible to physical and mental health problems.
The Solution is Simple, but Requires Effort
Fortunately, the solution isn’t all that complicated: Get up! Like with any habit, however, we have to intentionally build some scaffolding and structure that will enable new behaviors to overtake the old ones. If our default is sitting and “plowing through” work without breaks, then we must create intentional and mindful alternate behaviors to counteract that. Here are some simple solutions, some of which you can start immediately implementing to improve your physical and mental fitness.
- Use a standing desk. If you don’t have one or don’t want to spring for a new one, try working from a bar or countertop in your house or apartment. This doesn’t have to be something you do all day. Simply try switching your workspace from seated to standing every hour.
- Stand for phone calls. If you’re not on video, standing while taking phone calls is a great way to stretch and get the circulation going. You can walk around while you’re talking. You don’t have to travel far, but you can get a lot of steps in.
- Stretch while you’re working. These don’t need to interrupt your workflow. You can do leg raises while seated at your desk. You can be reading a report, typing emails, or completing eLearning while also giving your lower extremities some healthy activity. This video includes some other stretches you can do right at your desk.
- Change your focus. Just as it’s not good physically to be doing (or not doing) the same thing for long periods of time, we need to give our minds some variety and rest, too. Avoid “working lunches” and give yourself some time away from work and from screens. You might read a book while eating lunch, or maybe go to a different location. Sit on the patio and listen to nature or put in some headphones and listen to music or a non-work related podcast. Carve out some shorter breaks throughout the day to give your mind a break, too.
Remember, self-care isn’t selfish. You’re not going to be a valuable team member for very long if you burn yourself out or develop health problems that put you at risk.
For other self-care tips, get on-demand access to our recent webinar on Fostering Mental Fitness.
About the author
When he’s not working as the Content Strategy Coordinator for The Kevin Eikenberry Group, Chuck Chapman is a Marriage and Family Therapist serving individuals and families in crisis. He also applies his knowledge and experience working with systemic interventions to businesses and organizations to help them regulate stress levels and build healthier and more productive relationships.