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Get Up, Stand Up: How to Fend Off Sitting Disease

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Unless you’re a diving instructor or an elephant tamer, you probably have a pretty similar work day to mine. You walk into your office, walk a few feet and then sit down in a chair. And you probably stay in that chair for most of the day. Maybe you get up to go to a meeting or to lunch, but you know what happens when you do that? You sit in another chair. I swear, some days the cactus on my desk moves more than me.

But sitting in a chair all day is completely harmless, right? Wrong.

The scientific community has coined the phrase “Sitting Disease” to refer to the effect sitting has on the metabolism and just the general horrible things that come as a result of a sedentary lifestyle. “Sitting Disease” is a serious problem, and you need to try to deal with it now.

According to a survey by Ergotron, a manufacturer of digital display mounting and mobility products, just sitting at your desk could produce numerous health problems. Here are some startling findings from the survey:

  • People who sit for more than 11 hours a day have a 40 percent increased risk of death in the next three years, compared with people who sit for four hours or less.
  • Women who were inactive and sat for over six hours a day were 94 percent more likely to die during the time period studied than those who were physically active and sat less than three hours a day.
  • Sitting for long periods may also affect the development of musculoskeletal disorders.

Basically, even if you’re going to the gym every day after work and running marathons on the weekend, you can still be affected by Sitting Disease. Designer and Founder of Focal Upright Furniture Martin Keen told Levo:

Primarily, Sitting Disease is twofold. One [issue is] the inactivity that it puts you in, a state of non-motion, which shuts down circulation and respiratory function to a degree. Second is the issues of what it is doing to your internal organs. Ninety-degree sitting causes Sitting Disease by folding or compressing organs that were intended to be used for the full amount of space. For example, those folds and compressions can alter the function of the pancreas and the production of insulin. Even digestion is an issue. Again, respiratory and less space for the lungs and the heart.

So, what can we do to fend off Sitting Disease as long as possible, besides quitting our jobs?

1. Look for any opportunity to walk

If you can walk or bike to work without it taking too much time, do it. If you get sweaty on the way, bring extra clothes. Also, don’t just Gchat with your coworker; walk over and ask them your question. If you can read a memo and walk, do it. Walk the extra blocks to the better Starbucks. Suggest replacing boardroom meetings with walking meetings. (You’ll feel like you’re on The West Wing!)

2. Ask your employer about a standing desk

Employers are getting more and more flexible about alternative seating for employees. Ask about a standing desk, an exercise ball or even a treadmill desk. Being more upright can do wonders for your health. Keen told Levo:

As a solution, I recommend to keep your body more upright in a leaning posture where you are able to maintain mobility and movement throughout the day. As we evolve to be upright people, you are keeping your organs more open, as intended for nature. When you sit in a 90-degree position (what causes the Sitting Disease), your hip flexors shorten, you put a lot of strain on the posterior side of your back and compress the front side of your vertebrae. Maintaining upright posture keeps you more in column with your respiratory system.

3. Stretch your legs as much as possible

Try to stretch out your legs and back at least once per hour. Your spine will thank you later.

4. Try to stand as much as possible

It sounds tiring, but it’s better for your body and is actually better for productivity as well. Sitting is associated with relaxing, but standing has a stronger link to actually working (especially before everyone got desk jobs). When you are standing, you literally feel more productive.

5. Better posture and standing will help you communicate better

Standing and upright posture will not only to fend off Sitting Disease effects; they will also make you come across better in the workplace because they are power poses. According to The Wall Street Journal, new research shows that using powerful body language can actually change a person’s hormones and behavior, just as if he or she had real power.

Dr.Carol Kinsey Goman, author of The Silent Language of Leaders: How Body Language Can Help—or Hurt—How You Lead, told Levo: “Remember that status and authority are non-verbally demonstrated through height and space. So stand tall, pull your shoulders back, widen your stance and hold your head high.”

Is sitting all day giving you health problems? Tell us in the comments!

Meredith Lepore is the former editor of the women’s career site The Grindstone. Before that, she was on staff at Wall Street Letter and Business Insider and was a contributing writer for LearnVest. She earned her Master’s in Magazine, Newspaper and Online Journalism from the Newhouse School at Syracuse University after graduating with a degree in Brain and Cognitive Science from the University of Rochester. Meredith resides in New York full-time and enjoys reading, jogging, shopping and playing with her puppy, Otis.

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