Inactivity and the Office

July 24, 2015

Sitting all day?

Time and time again we are nagged by news outlets, talk shows and magazines that collectively proclaim “sitting for prolonged periods of time is the worst thing you can do for yourself”. In 2011, The New York Times published an article with a headline that asked “Is sitting a lethal activity?” Researchers at the mayo clinic have linked sitting for long periods of time with a variety of health concerns : “including obesity and metabolic syndrome — a cluster of conditions that includes increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol levels”.


Unfortunately, the reality is that many of us don’t quite have a choice in the matter, as our jobs keep us sitting at our desks all day. Marc Hamilton, an inactivity researcher at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center says: The posture of sitting itself probably isn’t worse than any other type of daytime physical inactivity, like lying on the couch watching “Wheel of Fortune.” But for most of us, when we’re awake and not moving, we’re sitting. This is your body on chairs: Electrical activity in the muscles drops — “the muscles go as silent as those of a dead horse,” Hamilton says – leading to a cascade of harmful metabolic effects. Your calorie-burning rate immediately plunges to about one per minute, a third of what it would be if you got up and walked. Insulin effectiveness drops within a single day, and the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes rises. So does the risk of being obese. The enzymes responsible for breaking down lipids and triglycerides – for “vacuuming up fat out of the bloodstream,” as Hamilton puts it — plunge, which in turn causes the levels of good (HDL) cholesterol to fall.


Traditional wisdom has decreed that if you make it to the gym two or three times a week you can counteract all the harmful effects of inactivity. However, new research suggests that “this advice makes scarcely more sense than the notion that you could counter a pack-a-day smoking habit by jogging” First this may seem like depressing news, it is hard enough to make it to the gym after working a forty sometimes sixty hour week, and now research is suggesting all that after-work gym grunting was for naught? The good news is that new research suggests that inactivity can be countered with simple everyday tasks. Dr. James A Levine of the Mayo clinic – and leading researcher of the field of inactivity studies- has coined a revolutionary term in how we view combating inactivity:” Dr. Levine coined a name for the concept of reaping major benefits through thousands of minor movements each day: NEAT, which stands for Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis.


In the world of NEAT the little stuff matter matters. NEAT is founded on the idea that overall everyday movement is more beneficial than a condensed sporadic workout. Actions and movements that take your body more energy than just sitting still: shoe tying, standing, walking. The research in the world of NEAT is still in progress, and is constantly looking for new ways for people to redesign their environments to encourage more movement. Among other creative innovations is a first grade class without chairs or desks where children spend their days crawling on matts labeled with vocabulary and jumping between platforms while reciting math problems. These innovative environments are slowly creeping their way into the office world as well; many companies are embracing standing and treadmills desks- where one walks at a steady pace while working. However, until this progress creeps into your workplace there are a few things you can do to combat all that inactivity!!


From the mayo clinic:

-Walk laps with your colleagues rather than gathering in a conference room for meetings.

-Position your work surface above a treadmill — with a computer screen and keyboard on a stand or a specialized treadmill-ready vertical desk — so that you can be in motion throughout the day.

-The impact of movement — even leisurely movement — can be profound. For starters, you’ll burn more calories. This might lead to weight loss and increased energy.

-Stand while talking on the phone or eating lunch. If you work at a desk for long periods of time, try a standing desk — or improvise with a high table or counter. Better yet, think about ways to walk while you work

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