You Still Might Be Sitting Too Much

Can you move regularly — even a lot — and still be considered “sedentary?”

This fascinating question was raised by the New York Times (or, at least, a reader): Does Taking Fewer Than 5,000 Steps a Day Make You Sedentary?

As the piece notes, physical activity is fairly clear: It means movement, or even standing. Sedentary activity means sitting: Such as driving one’s car or working at one’s desk. And while that might seem to indicate that engaging in physical activity necessarily means that one is not sedentary, that’s actually not the case.

Dr. Russell Pate, a professor of exercise science at the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina, told the New York Times that one can be regularly active, yet “still engage in a great deal of sedentary behavior. And I believe that such a pattern is quite common in our current society.”

The piece states:

“In other words, you can take 5,000 steps in a day or 10,000, meaning that you would cover either about 2.5 or 5 miles. But in both cases, if you concentrate those steps into a single session of exercise and then spend the rest of your waking hours slumped in a desk chair or in front of a television, you will be more sedentary than active.”

In other words: Even if you’re regularly active, too much sitting is still something to watch out for — and avoid.

One reason becomes clear in a recent study in the Journal of Applied Physiology, titled “Motor Unit Number and Transmission Stability in Octogenarian World Class Athletes: Can Age-Related Deficits Be Outrun?

In this study, authors “measured functioning motor units (MU) numbers and neuromuscular transmission stability in the tibialis anterior of world champion [masters athletes] (~80y), and compared the values to healthy age-matched controls (~80y).”

As expected, the masters athletes’ legs were strong. However, as the New York Times reports:

“More interesting to the researchers, the athletes also had almost 30 percent more motor units in their leg muscle tissue, and these units were functioning better than those of people in the sedentary group. In the control group, many of the electrical messages from the motor neuron to the muscle showed signs of “jitter and jiggle,” which are actual scientific terms for signals that stutter and degrade before reaching the muscle fiber. Such weak signaling often indicates a motor neuron that is approaching death.”

Sit More, Live Less?

Sitting-at-workWe knew that sitting is the new smoking… might it also be tied to shorter life span?

The American Journal of Preventative Medicine published a new study titled “All-Cause Mortality Attributable to Sitting Time.” The outline: “Recent studies have shown that sitting time is associated with increased risk of all-cause mortality, independent of moderate to vigorous physical activity. Less is known about the population-attributable fraction for all-cause mortality associated with sitting time, and the gains in life expectancy related to the elimination of this risk factor.”

The conclusion delivers important information for office workers (and others) who sit too much: Indeed, it could be connected to shorter lifespans.

States the study: “Assuming that the effect of sitting time on all-cause mortality risk is independent of physical activity, reducing sitting time plays an important role in active lifestyle promotion, which is an important aspect of premature mortality prevention worldwide.”

But there’s good news in that there’s a simple way to address the potential issue: Get up and move. In writing about the AJPM study, the New York Times reports: “Sitting too much may increase the risk of dying prematurely, while replacing sitting time with just standing or moderate physical activity could counteract the effect.”

The NYT reports that researchers “estimated mean sitting time across countries at 4.7 hours a day. Reducing that time by 50 percent, they calculated, would result in a 2.3 percent decline in all-cause mortality.”

And finding ways to become more active in the workplace don’t have to be complicated.

As the lead author, Leandro Rezende, a doctoral candidate at the University of São Paulo School of Medicine, is reported by the NYT as saying: “There are things we can do. Stand up, and go have a drink of water instead of keeping the water bottle at your desk. Or just stand up every so often. Standing alone increases your energy expenditure.”

How Architects Might Improve Workplace Wellness

Could the obstacle to your workplace wellness program’s success be a lack of architects?

Active Design is defined as “the translation of health research into design solutions that amplify the role of architecture and urban planning in improving public health and well-being,” by New York Center for Active Design.

According to a fascinating report by the architecture and design firm KI:

“As more and more companies embrace worker wellness, many are turning to the architectural and design communities for workspace solutions in support of a healthier workforce. Turning those sedentary office environments into spaces that can encourage healthier lifestyles is the central idea behind Active Design.”

As described by the Society for Human Resource Management, this means “the process of structuring the workplace to inherently promote movement.” In other words, perhaps your office space design creates an unintended impediment to wellness promotion.

To understand what options might work best, KI “conducted with professionals from top architecture and design firms, as well as a series of extensive surveys.

One survey considered the perspectives of more than 100 average office workers.

A second survey was sent to more than 100 workplace industry practitioners including architects, designers, and workplace strategists.” The study is titled “Understanding Active Design: The Rise of Human Sustainability.”

The firm’s hypothesis: “There are clear benefits from encouraging movement throughout the day. Therefore, creating environments that intuitively promote activity must become an indispensable part of wellness in the workplace.”

The result: “Nine best practices built on feedback from KI interviews and surveys with workplace design professionals and employees that can help accomplish effective Active Design.” These include:

  • Implement Daylighting
  • Create a Variety of Work Spaces
  • Encourage Face-to-Face Communications
  • Offer Healthy Food Options
  • Encourage Movement at Work
  • Design Flexible, Open Multi-Use Spaces
  • Subconsciously Inspire People to Take Stairs
  • Incorporate Height-Adjustable Worksurfaces
  • Allocate Outdoor Workspace

U.K. Launches ‘On Your Feet Britain’

It’s not just the U.S. that realizes that sitting is the new smoking. A program in the UK is focused on making sure office workers get up and move.

The program is called “On Your Feet Britain,” which is “calling on people to stand regularly, walk around more and embrace ideas such as standing meetings or standing desks,” according to BBC News.

The piece reports that “the campaign is a partnership between the group Get Britain Standing and the British Heart Foundation (BHF) charity. Their survey of 2,000 office workers suggested:”

One suggestion is to stand while on the phone. “Other ideas including using the stairs instead of a lift, eating lunch away from your desk, taking a break from your computer every 30 minutes and walking to a colleague’s desk rather than phoning or emailing them,” the piece states.

In fact, Get Britain Standing reports that workers can burn 50 calories more per hour by standing rather than being seated.

Said Dr. Mike Loosemore, head of exercise medicine at University College Hospital: “It’s about changing attitudes to how people behave at work and changing the culture of the workplace that just means moving around at little bit more, even just standing up can make a big difference to calories burned and how alert, creative and productive you are.”

The Hidden Risks of Sitting Down

Regular readers of this blog know that we take the idea of avoiding sitting too much very seriously. It’s one of the easiest, least intrusive, and fun ways well-run workplace wellness programs can make an immediate difference in people’s health and lives.

Today we bring you a way to watch more on the topic, rather than read more.

Murat Dalkilinç created an engaging, useful, and educational video for Ted-Ed: Why sitting is bad for you.

The text intro states: “Sitting down for brief periods can help us recover from stress or recuperate from exercise. But nowadays, our lifestyles make us sit much more than we move around. Are our bodies built for such a sedentary existence?”

Understanding the Signs of a Healthy Heart

With a week still to go in American Heart Month, we wanted to address a key goal of healthy heart approaches: Avoiding heart attacks.

A well-run workplace wellness program can help focus on many components of healthy heart behavior: Exercise, stress reduction, regular movement, weight reduction, and more. But as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention points out: “A crisis often strikes without warning.” Further, “Preparing for a potential heart attack now could save a life later.”

Any of these tips can be part of the awareness that accompanies a workplace wellness program:

  • “Know the risks. Be educated about the risks you and your loved ones face. Certain behaviors and conditions can increase your risk for a heart attack, including smoking, having uncontrolled high blood pressure, being overweight, and eating an unhealthy diet.”
  • “Recognize the signs. Heart attacks look and feel different in women than they do in men. Both men and women may feel chest pain when having a heart attack, but women are more likely to also experience shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting, and pain in the back, neck, or jaw. About 1 in 5 heart attacks are called ‘silent’ heart attacks, which means you’re having a heart attack but don’t know it.”
  • “Be safe, not sorry. Many heart attacks start slowly with relatively mild pain. That keeps many people from calling 911 as soon as they should. Make an agreement with loved ones that you will call 911 as soon as anyone experiences any of the signs of a heart attack. Don’t hesitate: acting fast can save a life.”
  • “Focus on prevention. It pays to be prepared in case a heart attack happens, but the best case scenario is to never experience a heart attack at all. You can help prevent heart attack from happening by eating healthfully, getting enough physical activity, not smoking, staying at a healthy weight, and managing other health conditions like high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, and diabetes. Reach out to your loved ones and commit to making these healthy changes together.”