Is Excessive Sitting Your Worst Habit?

If your back hurts, you are not alone. That’s essentially the conclusion from several research studies looking at the longer term physical health impacts of the switch to remote work. More than 70% of remote workers are more sedentary than pre-pandemic. Nearly half have gained weight. Thirty-nine percent reported increased muscular-skeletal issues. An Atlantic article summed it up quite well, “Yes, the pandemic is ruining your body.

Count me into that club. I’ve never had back problems. Knees? My whole life. Left hip? That hit before the pandemic. But my back was never an issue. Until, 18 months after logging onto zoom all day, it was. The pain persists despite good habits like regular physical therapy for the knees and hips, nightly stretching, and 30 minutes of some sort of cardio most days. The culprit is likely one bad habit: logging onto zoom at 8:30am only to realize at 1pm that I haven’t gotten out of my chair. 

This problem is not an awareness issue. I know I should move more and even own a device that buzzes to get me to move. It’s fundamentally a habit problem. I schedule myself back to back with no break. If a call wraps early, I get sucked into the 40 emails or slacks that showed up, instead of taking a walk up and down the stairs.

The health risks associated with sedentary lifestyles are estimated to cost employers $67 billion, but if I took that sedentary lifestyle survey, I wouldn’t count in the stats. But daily exercise may not be enough to counteract the effects of excessive sitting. This summary of what happens is chilling. “After just 90 minutes of continuous sitting, the body begins to show negative effects as gravity takes its toll on posture forcing the body forwards and down. Electrical nerve activity in the leg muscles shuts off, calorie burn drops to 1 per minute, enzymes that break down fat drop by 90% and circulation and blood flow are restricted to the lower body. All this happens whether you exercise every day or not at all.” Cardiovascular experts have concluded that it’s not the time we spend exercising. It’s the time we spend not moving. 

So what can employers encourage, and what can we do ourselves, to break the excessive sitting habit?

  1. Invest in equipment to adjust computers up and down. Many employers are now providing stipends to employees to improve home offices. Encourage your team to invest in an adjustable desk or buy a device that can raise and lower a computer set up. 
  1. Turn on smart meetings and use the extra minutes to walk and stretch. Most calendar functions can be set to default to 25 minute and 50 minute meetings. Set those up and use the time to walk, stand or stretch in between.
  1. Take walk and talks. One of our clients used to run wellbeing programs and she was the first to suggest we connect over a walk and talk. I’ve since incorporated them into a WeSpire offsite and try to figure out one a day that works well via phone. While I miss seeing people’s non verbal cues, they are much healthier. 
  2. Schedule movement breaks throughout the day. Encourage your team to schedule movement breaks on their calendar to avoid the continuous Zoom day.
  1. Set up movement challenges. WeSpire just added an integration to wearables to our wellbeing module and you can set up challenges and competitions that encourage regular movement. They are fun ways to encourage a culture of regular activity.

After reviewing the research, I’ve concluded that excessive sitting might be the worst health habit that I have. My hypothesis is that many otherwise healthy people, now that we are working remotely, have inadvertently wound up with the same problem. We underestimated the benefits of walking to a conference room, parking lot or train station, cafeteria or cafe. So let’s commit to standing up, walking, or stretching every hour and see what happens. My best guess is that, at a bare minimum, our backs will be grateful for our effort.

Quote of the Week: “Movement is a medicine for creating change in a person’s physical, emotional, and mental states.”

Carol Welch

Are you ready to build a better working world?