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March 28, 2012
Reduce Your Death Risk by 40 Percent Simply By Getting Off The Computer

The phrase "desk jockey" was originally created to designate a person whose job involves working at a desk for a major part of the day. However, that neologism should soon be translated to involve computers as the number of individuals who spend long hours or more in front of a computer have multiplied exponentially in the last decade. Research shows that sitting down for 11 hours or more per day increases your chances of dying within three years - whether you're physically active or not.

The study from the University of Sydney found those who were sedentary for half the day had a 40 percent increased risk, even when physical activity and weight was taken into account.

Subjects with jobs involving walking and standing, but no heavy labor have mortality risks that fall between those with desk jobs and manual laborers. However, those who work at desk jobs in front of a computer are even more sedentary than desk job workers from just a decade ago.

Study leader Dr Hidde van der Ploeg, said: 'These results have important public health implications.

'That morning walk or trip to the gym is still necessary, but it's also important to avoid prolonged sitting. Our results suggest the time people spend sitting at home, work and in traffic should be reduced by standing or walking more.'

The results showed physical activity is still beneficial: inactive people who sat the most had double the risk of dying within three years than the active people who sat least. And among the physically inactive group, those who sat the most had nearly one-third higher chance of dying than those who sat least.

The study's size and focus on total sitting time make it an important contributor to the growing evidence on the downsides of prolonged sitting.

The average adult spends 90 per cent of their leisure time sitting down and less than half of adults meet World Health Organization physical activity recommendations.

An accompanying editorial in the journal said the evidence was strong enough to support doctors prescribing 'reduced daily sitting time' to their patients.

The research was commissioned by the Cardiovascular Research Network and supported by the NSW Division of the National Heart Foundation Australia.

Heart Foundation CEO Tony Thirlwell said being inactive was a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, which is responsible for more than 17 million deaths a year worldwide.

'Watching TV, using computers and electronic games can involve sitting for long periods and have become a big part of leisure time,' he said.

'But we know that people who spend less time on these things have better health than those who spend too much time on them.'

A major five-year follow-up of 45 and Up study participants has just begun and will ask 265,000 men and women more about their health, lifestyle, and the medications and health services they use.

Such large-scale research will help governments face the challenges of an ageing population.

4 Alarming Facts About Sitting:

1. We spend 8.5 hours a day in front of screens.
That’s what Ball State University researchers found out in 2009 when they recorded how much visual media people are exposed to on a daily basis, and through what mediums. Their results showed that across most age groups, consumers spend almost nine hours a day in front of the TV and computer, using mobile devices like the iPhone, and watching movies. Another survey done that same year had similar results: The Nielsen Company’s Three Screen Report found that Americans watch about 153 hours of TV every month per person and that doesn’t include anything watched online or via smartphones.

2. Work-life lasts 7.5 hours every day. Active life? Not so much.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics conducted an American Time Use Survey in 2009 showing 7.5 hours as the average amount of time Americans spend working daily. Ted Schadler of Forrester Research estimates that thirty-four million Americans work from home at least part of the time, which often contributes to a sedentary lifestyle by eliminating the need to get up and leave the house, walk to a coworker’s desk for a meeting, and so forth. That number is expected to reach sixty-three million by 2016.

Comparatively, the 2010 National Health Interview Survey found that only 31 percent of people do the recommended thirty minutes of moderate physical activity five days a week. In fact, 40 percent of people don’t engage in any kind of regular exercise at all.

This all leads to fifty-six hours of sitting every week. A 2009 issue of Women’s Health reported on a poll conducted by the Institute for Medicine and Public Health that showed the average American spends a little over 33 percent of the week sitting.

Forty-four percent of workers in a 2010 survey reported that they had put on weight at their jobs. Forty-nine percent of them attributed it to sitting at a desk most of the day. That could be because being sedentary for long periods of time causes the metabolism to slow and less effectively break down fats and sugars.

3. Three out of four Americans have an increased skin-cancer risk partly caused by sitting indoors so much.
Recent research suggests office workers are more at risk for malignant melanoma than outside workers. In exploring this surprising rise, the authors of a 2009 study published in Medical Hypotheses discovered two significant factors: harmful UVA exposure from outside light through windows and a lack of vitamin D.

A 2009 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that 75 percent of Americans are deficient in vitamin D, partly due to insufficient time outdoors (because we’re spending too much time working and watching TV indoors). We need vitamin D to fight melanoma, but the only way to get a sufficient amount is through proper diet and plenty of sunshine. A deficiency in vitamin D also contributes to osteoporosis and cardiovascular issues.

4. Our mothers were wrong: fidgeting in seats is a good thing.
The more you move in any capacity, be it pacing or wiggling in your seat, the less likely you are to gain weight, at least according to a 2005 study at the Mayo Clinic. Scientists studied the actions and tracked the caloric intake of obese and thin people for a period of time. They found that the thin participants sat 150 minutes less per day than the obese ones because they tended to fidget more, which meant that they burned an average 350 calories more. Even tapping your foot under the desk works; it’s a movement that continuously activates leg muscles without requiring much energy or thought.

There’s at least one alternative to sitting in a desk chair all day, and that’s the treadmill desk championed by the same Mayo Clinic researchers who studied fidgeting. You walk on the treadmill at any pace you like and type, talk on the phone, and conduct work as you would sitting–only this way you’re burning way more calories. But if your employers won’t spring for that, try to stand up and stretch or walk around at least once an hour.

Marco Torres is a research specialist, writer and consumer advocate for healthy lifestyles. He holds degrees in Public Health and Environmental Science and is a professional speaker on topics such as disease prevention, environmental toxins and health policy.


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