I empathize if you’re in the predicament of working a routine 9-to-5 in a cubicle and staring at a computer screen for 90% of the day. Intuitively, this type of “labor” is not physically demanding at all...mentally, though, it sure can be draining.
Unfortunately, sitting behind a computer screen all day is not promising for your longevity and well-being. Even worse, the vast majority of people who work desk jobs don’t keep very active after they leave the office; they might walk up a few flights of stairs throughout the day but that’s about it for their daily “exercise”.
Let’s be honest, it doesn’t take much intellectual capacity to realize that sitting all day with minimal activity elsewhere is going to be bad for your health. It’s not a stretch to draw the correlation with increasing computer-based jobs to the rising rates of obesity across the globe.
But are desk jobs and sitting for most of your workday equally as bad for health and longevity if you’re active outside of your job (in other words, should “desk jockeys” be concerned)?
This article will detail five particular ways that your desk job can hurt your health and longevity and cut years off your life. Don’t worry just yet, though; there are some rather basic workarounds that can help keep you healthy and performing at your best even if you’re stuck in a cubicle all day.
I guess I’ll have to be Captain Obvious here for a second, but yes, sitting is much less energetically demanding than standing. Even if it’s obvious there’s a difference in calorie burn you experience from sitting all day versus standing, you’d be amazed at how much it actually adds up to when you do the math.
Per example, the majority of people who sit while working a routine 8-hour desk job expend about 400 calories less than those who stand while working eight hours. If you’re working five days a week, that’s an extra 2,000 calories you could be burning by standing instead of sitting! (And that’s not including the extra steps you might take while being on your feet throughout the day.)
Research demonstrates that sitting for excessive lengths of time actually “turns off” a key class of fat-burning enzymes called lipases. Lipases are essential for helping your body break down fat (from both food and stored tissue); naturally, when lipases aren’t able to carry out their physiological roles, your body has a propensity to hang onto body fat and not properly assimilate the fat you consume through food. (Generally, this is the inverse of what fitness enthusiasts and bodybuilders are looking for.)
It’s a bit ironic that sitting throughout the day does not require much physical energy, yet it’s one of the major causes of fatigue and tiredness. It’s only natural that many people who sit at a desk all day give into the temptation of an afternoon pot of coffee just to continue sitting and staring at a screen. Ideally, you should resist the urge to drink a ton of caffeine just to make it through your work day as it’s not a long-term solution to the problem.
Don’t forget that the chair was a human invention and the position most office chairs put your body in is not a natural one for your spine. When you sit for a prolonged amount of time, particularly in chairs that do not have correct back support, your much more likely to develop poor posture (especially in the upper spine). Many people will begin drooping their shoulders and tilting their head downward without even realizing it. In turn, this causes spinal curvature and discomfort all the way down the lower back, meaning your workouts suffer.
There's a large body of evidence suggesting that sitting at a desk all day significantly increases the risk of metabolic abnormalities, like type-II diabetes, and cardiovascular complications. In fact, working a desk job puts many people at a much greater risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD), which is the number one cause of death in the U.S. year after year.
Well if you made it this far and are in a panic to figure out how to remedy the issue of sitting at a desk all day, your first line of attack is to make the switch to a standing desk. Personally, I bought a standing desk about 4 years ago when I began my desk job and have never looked back. It’s one of the best investments you can make if you don’t want to experience the deleterious health ramifications of sitting all day. If you work for a company, chances are they will provide you with a standing desk upon request.
If you can’t/won’t make the switch to a standing desk, then the next best thing you can do is schedule intermittent breaks every 45 minutes or so where you stand up and walk around for at least five minutes. This will help keep you awake, alert, and encourage your body to get some blood flowing for a bit.
Ideally, you’ll consider using a standing desk and also incorporate periodic walking breaks. Even if you’re active outside of work, standing as much as possible during the day will only help (and likely add years to your life).