Wouldn't it be nice if there was something we could do to improve our health that does not require leaving the office or really moving at all? Turns out there is: standing. A study published in the journal BMC Public Health found that sitting less is independently "associated with excellent health and excellent quality of life." While the study found that physical activity had a stronger effect on health and quality of life, simply sitting less played an important role as well. As the authors put it:
High volumes of time spent sitting are associated with an increased risk of all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease mortality, type 2 diabetes mellitus, and other diseases or conditions when adjusting for participation in moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity. Therefore, insufficient moderate-to-vigorous physical activity and sitting time may be distinct influences on poor health.
Of importance to those of us dealing with disability in the medicolegal context is the authors' hypothesis that prolonged sitting leads to a slippery slope of disabling conditions.
Spending long periods in occupational sitting is associated with overall fatigue, musculoskeletal pain, and poor health in data from interviews with office workers. In the ergonomics literature, sitting is linked to one of the most prevalent chronic conditions, low back pain, frequently associated with disability. Thus, prolonged bouts of sitting daily may potentially feature prominently in a downward spiral of decreased mobility, physical function, physical fitness, engagement with life, physical activity, and eventually greater risk of chronic disease...
The authors note that this is a working hypothesis and that more work is needed to determine the precise sequence of events in this downward spiral. Nevertheless, it seems clear that excessive sitting plays a discernable role in poor health which increases the likelihood developing and the severity of disabling conditions such as chronic low back pain. This is useful information for employers who may wish to implement work space modifications that would allow employees to stand while working. In addition, the amount of sedentary time in a worker's shift could become a useful component of physical job demand analyses, reflecting a risk factor that has hitherto not often been considered.Medical News Today also reported on the study and raised some interesting aspects of the study and its implications. The article notes that breaking up our sedentary time changes our metabolism:
Sitting for a long time means there is little muscular contraction going on. This shuts down a molecule called lipoprotein lipase, or LPL, that helps take in fat and use it for energy.
As Sara Rozenkranz, one of the study's authors, explains to Medical News Today:
We're basically telling our bodies to shut down the processes that help to stimulate metabolism throughout the day and that is not good. Just by breaking up your sedentary time, we can actually upregulate that process in the body.
In addition, the article suggests that if work spaces are modified to allow more standing the health benefits would be significant. For example, there is evidence that increasing standing time by three hours per day without doing more causes the body to burn and additional 144 calories per day. This is "equivalent to shedding 8 pounds of human fat over a year." Good news for anyone who would like to lose some weight but has not interest in going to the gym. It may be better news for employers who can take a small step toward a healthier workforce and the cost and efficiency benefits that a healthier workforce brings.
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