Worker uprising

These exercise hacks help improve heart health in people with desk jobs

From taking the stairs and standing during calls, it all adds up.

Rear view of woman working remotely from home at standing desk
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You may groan at headlines like “Sitting is the new smoking” or “Death by chair.” But beneath the clickbait hysteria over sedentary lifestyles, there is truth.

Uninterrupted periods of physical inactivity of six or more hours are as reliably a risk factor for premature death as are obesity and smoking. Studies have linked that kind of idleness — pushed on a large portion of the workforce through our information-centered, laptop jockey economy — to an increase in the risk of death from a chronic health condition by 19 and even 25 percent.

But, some casual behavioral adjustments may help. In an intervention study published last month in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, white-collar workers improved signs of metabolic and cardiovascular health by reducing sitting by 50 minutes a day over three months, through practices as simple as standing during a phone call or taking the stairs instead of the elevator.

Science In Action — Researchers at the Turku PET Centre in Finland recruited 64 adults (aged 40 to 65) with a sedentary lifestyle and some metabolic syndrome. That is an umbrella term for a number of common signs of less-than-optimal physical fitness: high blood pressure, high blood sugar, cholesterol, or excess body fat. The participants had an average body mass index of 31.4, a nudge into the “obesity” range.

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About half the participants acted as a control group and were told to continue working as usual. Another half, the intervention group, got personalized advice on how to fit some more standing or light-intensity physical activity into their daily routines, with the goal of an hour increase. New behaviors included using sit-stand desks, standing during phone calls, and taking stairs instead of elevators. (The study was completed prior to the Covid-19 pandemic when offices were still thriving.)

Both groups wore accelerometers on their waists to track physical activity. The intervention group, which got advice on office exercise hacks, decreased their sitting time by an average of 50 minutes a day. The control group’s behavior did not change.

Why It’s A Hack — After three months, the group that decreased their sitting time had “significant” signs of improved metabolic and heart health, when compared to three months prior, including better fasting insulin and resting heart rate. They also had a modest decrease in body fat percentage of one percent, but no changes to BMI or overall weight.

How This Affects Longevity — For a significant segment of the population, work is an obstacle to physical activity. One in four Americans say they sit for 70 percent of their work time and spend the other 30 percent on physically “light” tasks.

Even if you get the American Heart Association-recommended amount of exercise, there is evidence that long periods of idleness increase health hazards.

Increases in the obesity rate began in the 1980s, an era of steep declines in manufacturing and mining jobs and growth in the retail and service fields. In fact, 83 percent of the jobs created in the U.S. since 1950 have been non-manual labor.

The so-called “obesity epidemic” has many possible root causes, including rises in fast food and infrastructure made for cars. But it also coincides with a change in work, when many were taken out of fields and factory floors and put behind desks and counters.

Even if you get the American Heart Association-recommended amount of exercise, there is evidence that long periods of idleness increase health hazards.

So, as much as it elicits the image of Dwight Shute bobbing on a fitness orb, it’s probably worthwhile to find ways to slip small fitness routines into the workday, or at least get up for a while.

Hack score — Five out of ten jogs to the water cooler 🥛🥛🥛🥛🥛

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