People who spend long hours sitting at a desk can enhance their health significantly by making a few simple changes to get on their feet, according to a new study by researchers at Western University in Canada.
Research has shown that prolonged sitting increases the risk of heart disease, obesity, type II diabetes, some forms of cancer, as well as depression. However, it can be a challenge for people who work long hours at a desk to figure out how to reduce this sedentary behavior.
“Even if we exercise regularly, most of us sit or recline for an average of 11 hours a day,” said Wuyou (Yoah) Sui, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Kinesiology at Western. “Our bodies just aren’t designed to function well with such low levels of activity — we all have to move more often than we do, or endure a variety of chronic health issues.”
In a new paper, published in the journal Applied Psychology: Health and Well-being, Sui and co-author Dr. Harry Prapavessis, a kinesiology professor, describe how students modified their sedentary behavior through a structured, six-week process that had shown previous success in smoking cessation and seatbelt compliance.
The researchers asked students to choose their best strategies to take more frequent breaks, which for some of them included setting timers and phone reminders. They also had short check-in sessions three weeks into the study.
In six weeks, the participants had turned these cues into habits: they took breaks, on average, once an hour in comparison to their previous 90-minute sitting sessions. Even two weeks later, they continued to shave time from their sitting durations. In contrast, a control group showed no improvement in its sitting habits.
“It’s human nature to stumble when trying to add new activities to a busy day, which is why diets and exercise resolutions sometimes fall flat,” said Sui. “This study shows we can combat ‘occupational sitting’ not by adding a new activity but by sliding a substitute regimen into the place of an existing one.”
For students or office desk workers, for example, those changes might include standing during phone calls; making a few short trips to the water fountain instead of one lingering visit; and replacing departmental email conversation with a walk-and-talk.
“We can build into our day some simple strategies to bring us out of our chairs and off our couches,” said Prapavessis, who is director of the Exercise and Health Psychology Lab at Westerns’ School of Kinesiology. “It may or may not make us more productive — we suspect it does, but the jury is still out on that one — but we know the health impact of getting to our feet is a positive one.”
Source: University of Western Ontario