How to Fight the Negative Physical Effects of Your Desk Job

“We’re sitting ourselves to death!”

Dr. James Levins of the National Institutes of Health made headlines when he announced, after 15 years of research, that “sitting is the new smoking.” Dr. Levine determined sitting for prolonged hours leads to obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes, and can increase the likelihood of developing certain forms of cancer. To many people, the answer was clear: Just stand up!

Standing desks have become all the rage as office workers everywhere switch from sitting in one place all day to standing in one place all day. And the benefits have been … almost imperceptible. While you do burn more calories standing than you do sitting, the fact remains you’re still not moving. Keeping your body in the same position for hours is what leads to all of those health risks Dr. Levins warns about, whether you sit or stand. It would be more accurate to say, “Sedentary is the new smoking.”

Now, don’t think you can erase the damage from being sedentary at work by hitting the gym when you clock out. Research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that, among individuals who spend most of their day in a sedentary position, those who engaged in regular physical activity were only 30 percent less likely to die from sedentary-related health problems than those who didn’t exercise at all.

So, what are we supposed to do? Seventy percent of Americans have jobs that require them to remain confined to a desk. If switching to a career that keeps you up and moving all day isn’t a possibility, how can we cure our sedentary problems? The answer isn’t standing; it’s moving. Human beings are meant to be up and moving around! That’s why staying still all day hurts us so much. A desk job doesn't have to destroy your health. If you need to send an IM or a brief email, walk over and deliver the message in person instead. Take phone calls while walking around or, better yet, conduct meetings while on a walk outside. Even periodic desk exercises can be beneficial.

Ultimately, it doesn't matter if you sit or stand. Make sure to move around at least once an hour to avoid serious damage to your health.