Unfortunately for corporate America, the "disease" is currently affecting more people than ever, as there has been an 83 percent increase in sedentary jobs since 1950 according to the American Heart Association.
Moreover, studies have found that negative effects of sitting are independent of short bursts of vigorous exercise. Though exercise is important to health for a variety of reasons, the relationship between mortality and sedentary behavior is not affected by physical activity levels, according to a 2010 study in the American Journal of Epidemiology. If two people follow the same vigorous exercise regime but one ambles around a shoe store all day and the other has a desk job, the shoe salesman will have a lower risk of heart attack and stroke, said Mayo Clinic cardiologist Martha Grogan. The key is to intersperse activity throughout the day.
In light of this research, employees with desk jobs should look for ways to break up sedentary behavior during the workday. Though pricey ergonomic chairs may ease back pain, standing up and walking around at least a few minutes every hour is most effective toward combatting cardiovascular problems and improving overall health.
"Just get up and take a 10 minute walk," Grogan said. "You probably won't miss anything."
The Price of Improved Office Health
Walk and Work
Increases physical activity and may help with weight loss
"Doctors have shown that people reading images on a treadmill are just as accurate if not more accurate [than people at a desk]," Grogan said.
- Burns 100 more calories per hour compared to sitting
- Can reduce obesity and health care costs
- Typically does not hinder work performance
Stand and Work
Increases metabolic rate and burns calories
"I noticed I could [stand and work] for a long, long time if I just set it up like 'Oh, I'm gonna do this instead of sitting in a chair,'" Grogan said.
- Stimulates blood flow
- Breaks down fats
- Processes blood sugar faster
Sit and Work
Slightly more support but comparable levels of discomfort
"These chairs are designed to help the onset of low back conditions that not only affect patients' well-being but also workplace productivity," said Kevin McNamara, clinic director of Galt Chiropractic Office.
- Provides lower back support and minimizes stress on the lumbar spine
- Assists with good posture
- Not all studies have found a significant decline in discomfort
Balance and Work
May burn more calories, but no significant benefits
"Stability balls activate your core muscles," McNamara said. "But if under-inflated they can put stress on those lower back muscles."
- Does not improve posture or significantly ease discomfort
- May burn slightly more calories than sitting in a chair
- May increase core strength
Source: The Organic Beauty
Wander and Work
Lowers risk of heart attack and stroke
Wander around the office
"Even five to 10 minutes of standing up and breaking up sitting seems to be helpful," Grogan said.
- Cognitive benefits
- Activates large standing muscles
- Results in metabolic and caloric improvements