Sitting at work is killing you: Here’s how to take a stand

When you’re in the grind, trying to level up your life and your career, it’s easy to neglect things that seem superficial.

You might put in a few hours of overtime rather than spend time doing that hobby or sport you love. You probably wake up early to get ready for the day and hit the commute before rush hour, rather than head to the gym.

And I’m going to guess that you spend literally hours sitting at your desk all day, without much more than a couple of breaks to go to the bathroom, eat lunch, and attend a meeting.

Unfortunately for those of us who fall into this camp, that last one – the one that’s so hard to get away from – is killing us.

I’m talking about sitting.

It’s so bad for you that people are calling sitting “the new smoking”. It’s even a specific risk factor that doctors look for when diagnosing disease.

That’s because sitting all day wreaks havoc with your body and has been shown to increase your rate of early death by anywhere from 12-40%.

And the risks add up quickly. For those who sit 13+ hours per day (not that hard, actually, when you include work, commute, meals, tv/computer/gaming…), you’re increasing your risk of death by 200% more than those people who sit less than 11 hours per day.

For us desk jockeys, workers with sitting jobs have twice the rate of cardiovascular disease than those with standing jobs.

Here’s what happens when you sit down

Almost immediately electrical activity to your leg muscles shuts off. Calorie burning drops to just 1-2 per minute, compared to about 4-6 when you’re walking. Enzymes that break down fat drop by 90%, which helps to explain a study that showed sitting makes people fatter. After a couple hours sitting, your good cholesterol drops 20%.

And if you spend most of an entire day sitting, insulin effectiveness drops by 24%, leading to an increased risk of diabetes.

Again with the comparison to those people who stand while working, sedentary workers had twice the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, the National Cancer Institute tells us that sitting leads to huge increases in cancer risk – 30% for colon cancer, 54% for lung cancer, and a whopping 66% for uterine cancer.

Our bodies just weren’t meant to be sat down in this position all day, every day. We didn’t evolve like this, and our current lifestyle is so new in the broad scheme of humanity that we’re just now discovering the horrible health effects of sitting so much.

So what can you do about it?

How to take a stand against sitting

I know what you might be thinking. “I’ll just make sure to wake up earlier and hit the gym before work. That’ll keep me healthy!”

That’s a good idea for its own sake, but unfortunately not to combat sitting. Once the damage is done, even exercise won’t fix it.

The single most effective thing seems to be summed up the best by associate research scientist at the Columbia University Department of Medicine, Keith Diaz. He says: “For every 30 consecutive minutes of sitting, stand up and move/walk for five minutes at brisk pace to reduce the health risks from sitting.”

Set a timer on your phone or computer to go off every 30 minutes. Then make sure you stand up and move around for a couple of minutes. This can also be an effective way of breaking up the work day, Pomodoro-style.

And if you want to take it a step further, look into getting a sit-stand desk for your office. Experts say that while standing all day has its own set of health challenges, working toward 2-4 hours of standing work per day is a fantastic goal.

Don’t forget to get a comfortable mat to stand on. Preferably one that encourages movement of the feet to a variety of different positions, because fidgeting has been shown to be another small, but effective way to stand up to sitting.

Basic fidgeting like playing with your hair, wiggling your leg, and tapping your fingers on the desk has been shown to increase energy expenditure by 25-100% when compared with sitting motionless.

So the next time you start to get annoyed by your coworker’s incessant finger tapping, just remember that she’s actually improving her health!

And when you get home after that long, hard day at the office (and the commute, which likely sees you sitting down), find something to do other than watching TV. People who sit to watch three or more hours of TV per day are 64% more likely to die from heart disease.

Commit to action

You’re committed to improving your career, your financial standing, and your life, so you know what it means to take action.

Commit today to sitting less and adopting a few of these tips. You could literally be adding years to your life!

John Roark is a husband, father, and entrepreneur, who’s passionate about helping people improve their confidence and fitness to find more success. When he’s not playing hockey with his boys, he writes about men’s fitness at