Stand up for yourself

Sitting all day may be hazardous to your health

Are you sitting down?

Probably. That’s how most of us spend our days. But it’s a shockingly dangerous way to spend our lives. We don’t think of desk jobs as putting us at risk, but the typical American worker who spends eight or 10 hours a day in a chair and in front of a computer could be decreasing his or her life expectancy. We’re all sitting ducks.

“It’s not good to be sedentary all day,” says Shelly West, MD, a primary care physician at Duke Primary Care Wakelon Internal Medicine in Zebulon. West cites our circulatory systems as one reason we need to get up and get moving. “When you sit for a long time, your lower extremities—legs, ankles, and feet—can swell due to an accumulation of blood and other fluid, and it can be painful,” West says. “Additionally, very sedentary people are at greater risk of deep vein thrombosis [blood clots].”

According to West, sitting in one place all day contributes to:

  • Neck spasms and worsening stiffness in someone who has arthritis or other musculoskeletal problems
  • Weight gain and slower metabolism
  • Increased potential for heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke

So much for “cushy” desk jobs.

How To Stop Being a Chairperson

Let’s say you have a desk job that you work from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. You’re diligent about getting exercise before or after work and on the weekends. Think you’re doing enough to combat the effects of sitting all day? Maybe not.

It’s important to interrupt chronic sitting with bursts of even moderate physical activity. You should move during the workday, West says. “You’ll think better and be more productive,” she says. If employers wanted to increase productivity, they’d insist everyone get up from their desks every hour to walk, run in place, or do some stretches.

Some forward-thinking employers are allowing employees to use the new ergonomic standing desks. (Although it should be noted that standing all the time isn’t good for us, either. Try standing for short periods at first and see whether it works for you.) But if you don’t have access to such a luxury, you should still stand tall when you’re able to during the workday.

“People should get up and move about at least once an hour,” West says. That’s not enough to combat the ills of our mostly sedentary lifestyle. But it’s a start. West reminds patients, “Of course, 45 minutes of vigorous exercise is recommended three times a week at a minimum.”

Most of us don’t have jobs that involve physical exertion, so we’ve got to fit in some physical activity where we can. If you don’t stand up and walk around, West advises moving in place. “There are stretches you can do under your desk that likely wouldn’t bother coworkers,” she says. Move your upper arms and lower legs if getting up and walking around is frowned upon.

And the old advice to take the stairs is still good advice, West says.

Another easy way to take care of yourself is to drink plenty of water. In fact, getting up to go to the water fountain accomplishes two goals in one trip away from your cubicle or office. You’re getting hydrated and getting your circulation going.

We all have jobs to do, and many of our jobs require staying seated for extended periods. But moving around is good for your physical and mental health. And it will help you perform better on the job, too. In the workplace, you’ve got to stand up for yourself.


Move It!

Here’s how to sneak some movement into your day, even when you’re at your desk.

  • Roll your shoulders. Roll forward, down and around and then backward, down, and around. Shrug a few times.
  • Stretch your neck. Sit or stand tall and tilt your head all the way to the right. Hold. Now, tilt to the left and hold.
  • Twist. Sit facing forward. Now, move your entire torso to the right side, taking your gaze as far to the right as you can. Then, reverse it.
  • Roll your head. Clockwise and then counterclockwise.
  • Show us those jazz hands. Give those typing fingers a break, and make circles with your hands.
  • Flash some fancy footwork. Flex and point your toes.
  • Tap your toes. Extend those legs. Move the extremities.

Written by Staff for Duke Medicine    |    Added February 6, 2014