Desk Job? Take A Break! It may save your life!

desk job

Sitting disease is recognized as a cause of cancer and heart disease

Ok, this one is close to home for me as I spend a LOT of time on my butt in front of a computer as a web marketer and web designer. And you may have noticed it’s a lot easier to be sedentary as we get older than when we were younger!

A report just came out yesterday from the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) in Washington, D.C. showing that increased sitting time (due to computers and desk jobs) is contributing to and linked to increases in breast cancer and colon cancer.

There were also studies conducted by the American College of Cardiology Foundation from 2003-2009, monitoring the effects of ‘screen time’ on a person’s cardiovascular health.

Conclusions: Recreational sitting, as reflected by television/screen viewing time, is related to raised mortality and Cardiovascular Disease risk regardless of physical activity participation [ie morning or evening fitness routines]. Inflammatory and metabolic risk factors partly explain this relationship.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been aware of the effects of my desk job on my body and health for some time. As a personal fitness trainer, I’m also aware of the huge increase in muscle imbalances and injuries presenting in clients due to the advent and growth of technology use over the past 20 years. We just plain old spend more time sitting than we used to and less time moving around!  These reports are now revealing some of the more dire effects due to this change in our work lives and society.

Be Aware: getting your daily workout, however committed and consistent you are will NOT make a difference if you spend a good portion of your day sitting. Both the ACCF and AICR studies point out that getting in your morning or evening workout doesn’t turn the tide on the negative effects of extended sitting on our health. Now THAT’S a blow!!

Alpa Patel an epidemiologist with the American Cancer Society responding to the report says,

Even if you are doing half an hour of aerobic activity a day, you need to make sure you don’t sit the rest of the day, Patel says. “You have to get up and take breaks from sitting.

Why Doesn’t Regular Exercise Help?

Prolonged periods of sitting have an impact on important metabolic processes in our body and can lead to increases in our triglycerides, HDL, cholesterol and blood glucose.

While getting that workout in definitely helps our overall health including helping to boost our metabolic rate, it doesn’t counteract the effects of sedentary sitting over time.

Only four hours of continuous sitting causes our body to go into a sort of “sleep” mode, where the genes regulating the amount of glucose and fat in the body start to shut down. *

Standing Up Can Help
To understand why this is the case, we have to understand a little about something called Activity Thermogenesis (AT).

There are two types of Activity Thermogenesis:
– Exercise activity (short bursts of physical activity)
– Non-exercise activity (on-going movement, puttering around the house, daily living tasks)

Interestingly, the majority of our AT is generated by non-exercise activity. Actual exercise represents a very small part of our AT.

Standing up actually rates as a form of “non-exercise activity” and therefore cuts into the body wanting to go into sleep mode.

Standing demands that you maintain balance and activates all sorts of large and micro muscles. Your calves get activated, your core and so on. So you don’t have to go jumping around in your office to get some remedy to the issue.

While studies do show that you decrease your risk of breast or colon cancer by 25-35% if you do undertake some sort of aerobic activity on a daily basis, it doesn’t affect long periods of sitting.

A brisk daily walk of at least 30 minutes could lower a person’s risk over time for breast cancer and colon cancer,” says Alice Bender, a registered dietitian with AICR.

So What Can We Do?

If we are sitting for periods of time longer than an hour, we MUST get up, move around and change our position. For those that work in a busy office and have to get up regularly, this is easy. For others, like engineers working for long hours coding or problem solving, it’s going to take some change of habits.

[highlight bg=”#fc0″ color=”#000″]But be aware – most of us underestimate how much time we actually sit every day.[/highlight]

–> Start by writing down everything you do in a day that involves sitting. Then write down the amount of time by each one. Include leisure activity sitting as well. When I did this I was shocked at how much time I am actually sedentary even though I get in regular workouts!

Here are some ideas to implement to start to turn the tide on this epidemic, the first one being the most obvious and doable:

1) Set a timer to go off every hour. Get up, walk around, do calf raises, jumping jacks, plyometrics, take a walk outside, load your laundry if you work from home — anything. Even standing will help break the negative effects of sitting for more than an hour at a time.

* I’m trying different desktop timers. Here’s one called Cool Timer available by secure download from cNet for Windows.

* For Mac users try downloading the Mac Timer Utility for just $3.99

It’s also good during your breaks to change your view line — look out to the horizon to break the pattern of downward/close range eye position if you’ve been working on a computer. This also helps to break the ingrained neural pathway pattern in the brain from keeping your eyes and head in the same position for long periods of time. Good for brain health!

Teresa Tapp has a little video showing some seated T-Tapp moves which will help increase upper body alignment and neurokinetic flow while sitting. You can view this video on this page. Be sure to scroll down to see it.

2) Find ways to take extended breaks from sitting at your desk. If you have any control over your daily work schedule, plan trips for errands in the middle of your morning or afternoon. Take your full lunch break — don’t spend it sitting at your desk! Go for meetings you normally want to get out of if it means getting to walk to a different area or building.

There’s actually a movement going on to make stand up-optional desks a norm in the corporate world — They also have a great section on the Sitting Disease. Which brings me to #3…

3) Look into a stand up desk or desk treadmill for your work station. I know…pretty extravagant for some of us but if you can afford it, well worth it! (It’s on my wish list!)

Here are some resources for work station alternatives to help you: – wide array of adjustable height desks  – affordable treadmill desks – everything desk ergonomics and the provider of an informative white paper that tells you more about why standing can remedy Sitting Disease.’s hack of IKEA products to make your own height adjustable desk

Enjoy this humorous video by as part of the campaign to get stand up-optional desks in the corporate world…


* American Cancer Society (July 23, 2010). “More time spent sitting linked to higher risk of death; Risk found to be independent of physical activity level.”

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Dorothy provides tips and information for staying fit and happy naturally during perimenopause and beyond, using the T-Tapp workout and more.

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1 Response

  1. miklo says:

    great article! thanks for the information :). I just started my new desk job and it has me worried about posture.

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