Author: Kathryn Koehne
What do employees who work at a traditional computer workstation and couch potatoes have in common?
They both are compromising their health and well-being and shortening their life expectancy from prolonged sitting. Katzmarzyk, Church, Craig & Bouchard (2009) found that sitting time and death are associated. More sobering is that even when individuals engage in physical activity when not at work, there is limited reversal of the health threats. The key is breaking up sitting with standing. Daily movement is essential to counteract the death threat from sitting.
I completed a doctoral in nursing practice with a focus on Health Innovation & Leadership and completed a project that included identifying a problem and then propose an evidence-based intervention. As a nurse educator who spent hours in meetings every day and a full-time graduate student who spent long hours reading and writing on my laptop every night, I was beginning to experience the impact of prolonged sitting and repetitive movement. Excessive reading and exhaustive writing kept me in my chair most of the weekend. My shoulders were tight, my neck was achy and my wrists were stiff. At the same time, the scale began moving in the upward direction despite daily workouts and a healthy diet. So, when I read headlines such as “Sitting Kills” and “Sitting is the New Smoking,” I was both horrified and inspired. As I read the details of the hazards of prolonged sitting, I decided this would be the focus in my project.
Sitting and Cardiovascular Disease
Patel and colleagues (2010) identified sitting for as little as six hours is associated with cardiovascular disease mortality in both women and men. Studies identified a link between the amount of inactivity and heart disease. Although I was running three times a week and lifting weights, the fact that I was sitting for more than 12 hours a day would lead me to premature cardiovascular disease. And as I looked around my health care organization and colleagues in graduate school, I was surrounded by others who were on the same road to chronic illness.
Siting and Cancer
Researchers have found a statistically significant positive association with sedentary behavior and colon and endometrial cancer (Schmid & Leitzmann , 2014). The exact way that sitting causes cancer is not known but it is a reality. The simple act of standing regularly reduces the potential for the development of cancer-causing pelvic cancers.
Sitting and Blood Clots
Prolonged periods of sitting may lead to death or hospitalization from the development of blood clot and/or pulmonary embolism (Kabrel, Varraso, Goldhaber, Rimm, & Camargo, 2011). When people sit, blood pools in lower extremities and promotes the development of blood clots. When blood clots break away, there can be a deadly outcome. By standing up and walking blood is pumped around and increases blood flow, preventing clots.
Sitting and Diabetes
Researchers (van der Berg, 2016) found that an extra hour of sedentary time is associated with a 22% increased odds for the development of type 2 diabetes. When muscles are not consistently active (i.e. contracting), glucose metabolism may be impaired which can lead to metabolic syndrome. Previous recommendations to prevent diabetes included exercising 30 minutes per day. New recommendations should include breaking up sitting at least once an hour by standing. Exploring the literature for my project was fascinating and formidable. As I reflected on my own plight as well as the health of my colleagues, patients, students and all who work at computer workstations, I knew I had a responsibility to design a realistic intervention that could effectively address this problematic issue.
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I developed a simple approach to reduce the risk for developing cardiovascular disease, cancer, blood clots, and diabetes while also reducing the aches and pains of musculoskeletal strain. The intervention was called the 3S Movement – Sip, Stand, Stretch. The bundled activities included standing or walking, drinking water and stretching. The project included an introductory session and a four week program. The participants remained highly engaged for the duration: there were no dropouts! At the conclusion of the project, the participants unanimously agreed that they would continue these behaviors. Other positive findings included feeling healthier and more energetic. One year later, the participants have sustained the change and have continued engaging in the 3S Movement. A standing desk reduces sitting throughout the day and counteracts the bad effects from sitting because when individuals stand, abdominal, leg and butt muscles contract to keep an upright posture. This contraction consumes sugar and affects triglycerides. Whenever muscles are used, sugar is consumed and triglycerides are affected which lowers cholesterol and could lower diabetes and heart disease risk.
So, take a stand to promote your health and well-being!
Kabrel, C., Varraso, R., Goldhaber, S.Z., Rimm, E., & Camargo, C.A. (2011)
Physical inactivity and idiopathic pulmonary embolism in women: Prospective study. BMJ, 343, 1-9. doi: 10.1136/bmj.d3867
Katzmarzyk, P.T., Church, T.S., Craig, C.L., Bouchard, C. (2009)
Sitting time and mortality from all causes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 41. 998-1005. doi:10.1249/MSS.0b013e318193035
Patel, A.V., Bernstein, L., Deka,A., Felgelson, H.S., Campbell, P.T., Gapstur, S.M.,…Thun, M.J. (2010)
Leisure time spent sitting in relation to all mortality in a prospective cohort of US adults. American Journal of Epidemiology, 172(4), 419-429. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwq155
Schmid, D. & Leitzmann, M.F. (2014)
Television viewing and time spent sedentary in relation to cancer risk: A meta-analysis. Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 107(7). 1-19. .doi: 10.1093/jnci/dju098
van der Berg, J.D., Coen D. A., Stehouwer, C.D., Bosma, H., Jeroen H. P., van der Velde , J.H…Koster, A. (2016)
Associations of total amount and patterns of sedentary behaviour with type 2 diabetes and the metabolic syndrome: The Maastricht Study, Diabetologia, 59. 709–718