Sitting is the secret enemy of your health and wellness and the health and wellness of your workforce.
Recent research suggests that, for the first time in history, Americans spend as much time sitting as we do sleeping, “an important milestone in human history.” If you add all the sitting and sleeping time together, it is no wonder that exercise alone can’t arrest all of the resulting health problems.
We are a society that increasingly is replacing most of our active work with technological solutions.
We are a society that does most of our work sitting at a desk and gets most of our entertainment and social interaction from phones or television and movie screens, also while seated.
Many of us, if not most, feel like we’re constantly on the go — often overwhelmed, in fact — but most of us rarely move.
Our sedentary lifestyle doesn’t only lead to poor health for individuals, but contributes to huge costs in terms of absenteeism and presenteeism. (If “presenteeism” is a new word for you, take note. It’s the tremendous loss of productivity our nation suffers when people show up at work but can’t perform at their best because of health and wellness factors, such as chronic disease or stress.)
The High Cost of Sedentary Living
Sitting, or being sedentary, comes with real health and wellness costs. We have always assumed that our health problems were due to a lack of exercise. But, it might be time to include an entirely different cause — sitting — because research is revealing that our health and wellness suffer when we are sit.
Most people, employers included, assume that simply adding the right amount of exercise and diet to the lifestyle of overweight or obesity individuals would fix all that ails them. However, it turns out that our sedentary behavior itself can cause health problems regardless of how much we exercise.
In other words, while it is true that we all benefit from more exercise and a better diet, we also benefit independently from less sitting. And, perhaps more important, exercise and diet will not, by themselves, fix the health problems created by all of our sitting.
As you start to consider the design of your corporate wellness program and think about how to trim costs associated with health care coverage and absenteeism, take time to consider how the work environment itself contributes to the problems you’re trying to avoid. The answer goes beyond just the formal exercise and healthy eating program you’re providing to your staff.
What Can You Do?
Broaden your understanding about what contributes to poor health, including the dangers of sitting for extended periods of time, and follow up by modifying your personal or corporate wellness plan accordingly.
More than thinking of tactics to add to your existing wellness program, take a look at your work culture and philosophy. Treat sedentary behavior as an independent risk factor and make the changes needed to turn your work environment into a place that promotes activity.
The first step is to consider how to break up all the sitting.
Unfortunately, most research about the problems caused by sitting is relatively new, and the research is still weak on how to best break up sitting.
Luckily, there are things that you can do until experts release validated recommendations and “best practices.”
No matter what tools you end up using, if your goal is to truly address the health problems you or your workforce are facing, make sure you address the dangers of sitting and the benefit of activity and movement, not just bouts of formal exercise.
- Create a work culture that embraces and values sitting less and moving more: Your target should be to reduce and interrupt prolonged sitting
- Start the transformation by telling your employees about the dangers of prolonged sitting and the benefits of frequent movement
- Install shared standing desks that are open for anyone to use
- Consider creating sitting-standing workstations or treadmill standing desks
- Conduct walking meetings and walking breaks
- Create point-of-choice prompts through your computer network to remind people to take a break from sitting and do something active, even if just for a moment
Jules Smith is HR Director at DiGennaro Communications.