It’s Wednesday morning at the Forrest Centre gym and one of the weekly Mobility, Stability and Flexibility sessions are about to get underway. Within minutes of sinking into their first mobility exercise (wall-supported deep squat), varying levels of discomfort are displayed across attendee’s faces as they attempt to overcome stiff spines, tight adductors, rigid ankles and adhesive hip capsules. Like many workers in the modern-day workforce, the majority of our duties are performed from a seated desk. Subsequently, this position can cause shortened and tight hip flexors, making it difficult to enter and sustain fundamental movement patterns that express full ranges of a joint (such as the deep squat). In addition to this common example of musculoskeletal maladaptation, there is also a growing body of evidence that highlights other concerning health conditions that can be developed as a consequence of prolonged sitting such as:
- Lowered cognitive performance
- Anxiety and depression
- Cancers (lung, uterine and colon cancer)
- Decreased metabolism
- Cardiovascular disease
- Type 2 Diabetes
Evidently, it is quite clear that too much time sitting poses a significant risk to our health. The below infographic from the National Heart Foundation illustrates the amount of time that an average Australian adult spends in a seated position:
Source: “Sit Less, Move More” info sheet. National Heart Foundation
In light of these alarming statistics, how can deskbound workers possibly win this ongoing war against the chair?
One prominent strategy that has gained momentum in recent years has been utilising sit to standing desks. Despite its popularity, standing to work has also been shown to be problematic when utilised for extended durations, as it demands ~20% more energy than sitting. Additionally, it has been shown to place additional load on the circulatory system, whilst also increasing the risk of varicose veins. Ultimately, standing desks seem to be an intermittent strategy to employ, only to be utilised in moderation and not solely relied upon.
The Solution? Microbreaks!
For many years, ergonomists have recommended interrupting sitting by periodic standing and movements throughout the day. An ergonomics Professor from the University of Cornell, Alan Hedge, has extensive experience researching workplace ergonomics and its impact on health, comfort and productivity. Based on his findings, he strongly advocates a 30-minute formula designed to keep worker’s joints, muscles and metabolism healthy: 20 minutes sitting, 8 minutes standing and 2 minutes of movement (see below).
The underlying notion is that no ergonomic chair, strategically placed peripherals or standing desk can protect you from the danger of hours of sitting every day. Regardless of the position, movement is imperative for all humans, as we are not designed to be stationary for long periods. Therefore, identifying these opportunities to create incidental movements in the workplace (e.g. hourly water breaks, standing for meetings, parking further away from the building or taking the stairs) each day may very well be the key to avoiding the potential dangers of prolonged sitting on your health.
If you’re interested in learning more about effective strategies to counteract the negative health effects of extended sitting, please email us at email@example.com.
B.Sc. Exercise Science and Rehabilitation
Owen, N., Healy, G. N., Matthews, C. E., & Dunstan, D. W. (2010). Too much sitting: the population health science of sedentary behavior. Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews, 38(3), 105–113.
Thorp, A. A., Kingwell, B. A., Owen, N., & Dunstan, D. W. (2014). Breaking up workplace sitting time with intermittent standing bouts improves fatigue and musculoskeletal discomfort in overweight/obese office workers. Occup Environ Med, 71(11), 765-771.