Today’s Advisor stands up for the importance of wellness training on sedentary lifestyles.
Lately, there have been several reports on the negative side effects of sedentary lifestyles. See “Why It Matters” later in this article for key statistics from these reports. Some are calling it “the new smoking” and others are referring to the health risks of “chair disease.” The experts agree that the risk is significant, but much remains unknown about this emerging problem.
Patrick McCrann is a triathlon coach and entrepreneur who help endurance athletes and regular folk perform at a higher level. He agrees that the big problem with sitting is that it causes a weakening of the muscles. “You’re in a state of rest, and nothing in your body is working, not the leg muscles or the back muscles.”
Because the chair is fully supporting the body while seated, the muscles do not have to work. “The longer you stay in that position, the more challenges you’re going to have outside of that environment,” warns McCrann.
Employers that want to help employees become active and healthy need to encourage walking programs. That includes finding ways for them to stand for part of the workday in order to burn calories and develop strength.
“Standing is great for projects that require a quick turnaround, but isn’t as good for longer-term tasks like writing,” McCrann advises. “For large projects, I will find a quality place to sit. But if I’m working on crushing my inbox answering e-mail and phone calls, standing is great for that.”
McCrann says it takes some effort to get into the habit of standing during the workday. Over time, employees will begin to make an association between standing and some types of work, much as they will grab a cup of coffee before starting a work task.
“Take the association away from something you’re ingesting, and substitute something natural and dynamic like moving,” he suggests.
Helping people see the risk of too much sitting is hard, McCrann acknowledges. “Smoking is bad because we know what it does to your body, but it’s harder to see with sitting because it’s not as insidious.”
Make It Work
McCrann offers a number of ideas for getting the most out of standing. Being upright is beneficial at a basic level because it engages the core and is a more natural position than sitting.
“Then there are lots of things you can do while you’re standing,” he suggests. “You can change the surface with squishy pads that help with balance and coordination. I also keep stress balls at my desk, and I’ve had entire [phone] meetings where I’ve done yoga or stretched the whole time,” he adds.
Encouraging workers to stand can be easier than getting them involved in a worksite walking program, according to McCrann. “Everyone can stand, but if you have an exercise-based promotion, some people will not be able to do it. Standing reduces the barrier to entry.”
Sit/stand/walk stations are now available from several manufacturers, but the price point can be prohibitive. No worries, says McCrann. He’s actually created his own by placing a stepstool on top of his desk. He puts his laptop, monitor, and other items on the stool in order to create an inexpensive standing desk. The setup is easy to disassemble when he goes back to sitting.
Train Employees to Stand Up and Walk for Wellness
Think your employees could benefit from more opportunities to walk on the job? There’s a lot you can do to move things forward. For example:
- Ask vendors of sit/stand equipment to conduct a demonstration.
- Establish a walking subcommittee from your safety and health committee.
- Ask employees for ideas about how to get moving. Offer walking-related motivations such as water bottles, T-shirts, and socks.
- Check out resources such as the American Heart Association’s Start Walking program (www.startwalkingnow.org).
- Invite inspiring speakers to talk about the benefits of walking in their lives.
- Ask your insurance company about any ready-to-use walking programs they may offer at no charge.
- Get top leaders engaged and encourage employee participation through a “Walk with the Boss” program. Workers sign up for the chance to walk with your CEO and a small number of employees during lunch. Your CEO shows support for the program while employees get to spend time with the boss.
Why It Matters
- A recent study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that adults who sat for 11 or more hours per day had a 40 percent higher chance of dying prematurely over the next 3 years compared with those who sat for fewer than 4 hours per day.
- University of Sydney researchers reviewed the habits of more than 200,000 people. They found that inactive people who sat the most had double the risk of dying early compared with active people who sat the least. Among the physically inactive group, those who sat the most had about a third higher chance of dying early than those who sat least.
- Lead author Dr. Hidde van der Ploeg wrote, “These results have important public health implications. That morning walk or trip to the gym is still necessary, but it’s also important to avoid prolonged sitting. Our results suggest that the time people spend sitting at home, at work, and in traffic should be reduced by standing or walking more.”