Dr Raja Ahmad Shaharul Consultant Family Medicine Specialist & Certified Nutrigenomics Practitioner
Many Malaysians, especially those living in urban areas, are becoming increasingly sedentary. Just take a look at a typical urbanite’s day – how many hours are spent sitting down or being physically inactive?
Studies found that the average person in this world sits down for 7.7 to 15 hours a day. That’s about half the day!
Sitting down by itself is not a problem, explains Dr Raja Ahmad Shaharul (or Dr Shah to his patients and friends). The problem is that we are sitting down too much. Researchers are increasingly sounding the alarm that being sedentary for this much can be dangerous, even deadly. These researchers have even coined a term for ill-effects for sedentary (mostly seated) lifestyle: sitting disease.
The Dangers of Being Sedentary
Dr Shah explains the following:
- When we are sedentary, we are not burning away excessive calories that we have obtained from our meals. As a result, we put ourselves at higher risk of becoming overweight and obese.
- Being overweight and obese increases our risk of various non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart diseases, kidney problems and more. It is believed that the risk of certain cancers may also be increased.
A study conducted from 1993 to 2006 found that up to 94% of inactive women and 48% of inactive men who sit for more than 6 hours daily are more likely to die, compared to their more active counterparts who sit for less than 3 hours daily.
There are also possible short-term effects on our health. For instance, maintaining incorrect body posture while working at the work desk for long periods of time can lead to joint stiffness and pain as well as nerve problems.
“But I go to the gym regularly!”
While being physically active is a good thing, extending our gym time or adding a few more laps to our evening jogs may not be enough to reverse the effects of sitting down for so long each day. On top of regular physical activity, Dr Shah recommends the following:
Tips for the Office Staff
- Take a short walk, for 30 seconds to 1 minute, for every 30 minutes to 1 hour of working at the desk.
- Instead of calling or messaging colleagues, walk to their desk.
- Park our vehicles a little farther from the office entrance or elevator lobby, so that we can walk a bit more. Also, take the stairs instead of the elevator whenever possible.
- If we are stuck in a traffic jam, we can do simple exercises such as moving our toes, crunching our abs, and even exhaling and inhaling deeply to exercise our respiratory muscles.
Tips for Employers
While it may require significant investment of time and money, research shows that providing the office staff with sit-stand desks can improve both the health and productivity of the overall workplace staff.
- A study by Stanford University found that employees using sit-stand desks were 78% less likely to experience pain.
- A 2011 study published by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that employees using sit-stand tables experience improved mood as well.
A sit-stand workstation
Don’t Just Sit There!
In addition to taking a short walk after a long period of working at the desk, we can also do some furtive exercises without attracting weird looks from our colleagues.
- Reduce stress and tension by rolling our shoulders (forward in a circular motion 10 times, backwards for another 10 times, repeat) and stretching our arms.
- Feeling bored while standing by the photocopy machine? Lift one lower leg to the back, hold it for a few seconds and lower it before lifting the other lower leg. Repeat this a few times.
- If we need some respite from reading the documents at our desk, sit up straight and then hold our abdominal muscles tight. Then, lift and extend one leg until it is level with our hip and hold it in that position for a few seconds. Lower the leg and do the same with our other leg. Repeat a few times. This little exercise helps strengthen our stomach muscles and relieve our cramped or tired muscles at the same time.