Sitting at a Desk All Day Is Worse Than We Thought

1 Mar

Why your job is slowly killing you — and what you can do about it

Originally published on

About six years ago, I worked in an office where my boomingly loud cubicle mate would take his phone calls standing up to avoid, as he said, “a flat, flabby ass.” Though it made me and my neighbors want to kick him in the aforementioned body part, it turns out he was onto something more than just maintaining a bootylicious butt.

If you spend all day sitting at a desk, like the majority of American workers do, what you suspected all along is true: Your job could in fact be killing you.

Research shows that the amount of time you spend sitting or lying down is strongly connected to your risk of heart disease, obesity, diabetes and an early demise. Even worse, meeting the federal guidelines for exercise (30 minutes a day of moderate activity) doesn’t really help much if the rest of your day looks like this (give or take the lute).

Basically, those of us who spend more than 23 hours a week in sedentary positions have a 64 percent greater risk of dying from heart disease than those who sit on their duffs for 11 hours or less a week. The reason: When sitting for long periods of time, your brain tells the body to shut down. Your metabolism slows down, your body stops burning fat. In a word, it’s ugly.

I work from home, hunched over a computer for most hours of the day — alone. My commute involves a few steps from my bedroom to my office, and I have no one beckoning me to meetings throughout the day. I also hate to be interrupted — especially by my bladder. I’ve even been known to avoid drinking water — cracked lips, dry throat and all — if it means I don’t have to move until my assignment is done. In a nutshell, I’m effed, and probably already half-dead. Which is why I’ve been trying to talk my husband into letting me get a $2,500 treadmill desk. So far, despite my pleas from the deathtrap formerly known as my desk, he’s not biting.

So, what’s an ambitious working girl who routinely logs 50 hours a week in front of her computer supposed to do? Well, don’t take this information lying down. Instead, become that annoying coworkerwho can’t sit still for an hour. Researchers have found that taking one-minute breaks that activate your muscles at least once an hour will keep your body from falling into a vegetative state. Do a jig, walk around the office, refill your water bottle or be the crazy colleague who does planks in the hallway. Or, use a stability ball as a chair to help engage your core.

And secondly, don’t give up on your fitness routine. Even if a visit to the gym won’t counteract the effects of sitting all day, the more active we are, the better our chances are at staving off a flabby ass and a bum heart.

If your boss grumbles about your lunchtime escapes to yoga class or your newfound penchant for roaming the office corridors, bite your tongue, because what she doesn’t know could hurt her — and if you aren’t too fond of her, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.


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