Desk jobs may lead to early death

Kyle Kranz

Kyle KranzRunning on the white line

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, however exercise and a well-rounded diet may not be enough to remain healthy. I know, well shoot. You get the recommended 150 minutes of moderately intense physical activity recommended each week by the American College of Sports Medicine, and you eat your fruits and vegetables. That’s what has always been prescribed to us and what many of us try to do. Now research is showing more and more that it is everything else we do (or do not do) that also drastically influences our health. I am talking about the amount of time people spend sitting. Guidelines have always been given to get physical activity, eat more of that, less of this, but rarely are people told to spend less time on their butts.

The human body is not built to sit for 8-plus hours a day. We are a mobile machine, and things go haywire when we sit in a car for an hour, sit at work for 8 hours, and sit at home after work for another 4 hours watching television. According to a survey of 6,300 people done by the Institute for Medicine and Public Health, the average person spent 56 hours a week seated.

Studies and research have shown high sedentary time can contribute to an increased risk of developing everything from diabetes, obesity, early death, to cardiovascular disease and depression, and god forbid, secretary butt.

Now I’m going to throw a bunch of research at you, just bear with me because it’s pretty interesting stuff. A recent study published in the European Heart Journal found that after following the activity of 4,800 Americans and even accounting for exercise, those with high sedentary time were more likely to have a larger waste circumference, higher cholesterol, higher insulin, and more inflammation makers. Another study done at the Cancer Prevention Research Center of the University of Queensland Australia found that the amount of exercise matters little when the person spends the remainder of the work day seated. However those who took frequent breaks from sitting weighed less and had better blood sugar and fat level compared to those who took fewer or no breaks. Another from the American Journal of Cardiology reported that compared to those who spend less then 2 hours a day on screen-based entertainment, those who spent at least 4 hours a day devoted to watching TV or playing video games were more than twice as likely to have a major cardiac event involving hospitalization and/or death.

During a long period of seated time, which is 4-plus hours, your metabolism starts to slow, and you burn fewer calories. Fat burning enzymes, mainly lipoprotein lipase, start to decrease by up to 50 percent over a seated day. Risk of heart disease increases due to reduced blood and enzyme circulation. Research has also shown that for every 2 hours a day you spend seated, your risk of developing diabetes increases by 7 percent.

So if exercise is not enough, what is there to do? Well, exercise has many many benefits and should not be excluded from daily habits. However exercise can be offset by sitting for the remainder of the day. Luckily, the sedentary time can be beaten by frequent breaks to keep our bodies busy. If I am at the library and know I will be seated for over an hour, I will try to take a break every 30 minutes to stand up and walk. It helps wake my body and brain up. Spending a half hour standing burns three times more calories compared to a half hour seated. Another suggestion is to put one of those huge balls at your desk in place of a chair. The small muscle contracts and attention to your posture keeping you steady helps keep your body functioning smoothly. For only $25, you can buy a small pedal exerciser that sits under your desk and allows you to pedal while seated. Most interesting however, is the treadmill desk. You can purchase a new treadmill with a built in desk or buy a desk that can be attached to most treadmills. Either way you can expend up to an extra 100 calories per hour by walking slowly instead of sitting.

I think this just goes to show that every little thing you do counts. Who would have thought your desk job or simply too much sitting could be a major risk factor for premature death? Even if you exercise, avoid being an active couch potato and keep moving throughout the day. Try to break up sedentary time here and there, stand up and move around whenever you can. Us students are lucky in that we have not had the opportunity to spend 40 hours a week sitting. But just wait, you’ll get there, and keep this in mind when you do.

Kyle is a senior majoring in nutrition. View his blog at