Office workers are well aware of the health risks of prolonged sitting, but many assume that exercise can counteract these risks. A new study finds that exercise may not “make up” for some of these effects.
Researchers at the University of Minnesota studied the association between TV watching and common (and potentially fatal) blood clots in the thromboembolism vein (VTE). The study found that watching TV for an extended period of time can increase the risk of potentially fatal blood clots. Sitting hinders blood flow to the feet and legs.
Exercise, the study found, may not be able to offset these effects.
Participants who spent a great deal of time watching TV were nearly two times more likely to be at risk for developing a VTE blood clot than those who seldom or never watched TV. Participants who achieved the recommended amount of exercise were still at an increased risk of having a VTE clot.
“When there isn’t movement of the legs, especially the calf muscles which help pump blood up, the blood sits relatively still in the veins,” Mary Cushman, professor of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine at the University of Vermont and author of the study, told Insider. “When there is stasis like this, blood likes to clot.”
While exercise may not be able to counteract the effects of prolonged sitting, experts say that physical activity is still important. Maintaining a healthy weight, reducing TV viewing time and increasing physical activity can help prevent a VTE clot.
Those who aren’t keen on giving up their TV-viewing or Netflix-binging habits can get their entertainment fix by watching while walking on the treadmill or riding a stationary bike.
The research is in line many other studies that seem to support one central theme: sitting for prolonged periods of time is bad for your health.
While most people, particularly those who work desk jobs, could benefit from more activity, there is a growing school of thought that sitting isn’t a death sentence.
If your job requires you to sit for prolonged periods of time, making an effort to get up and move around more often can help.
Blood clots and the increased risk of obesity aren’t the only concerns associated with sitting. Pain is another common side effect of spending hours parked in an office chair.
According to OSHA, work-related musculoskeletal disorders are now one of the most frequent reasons why workers are put on restricted duty or forced to take time off. In 2013, about 33%, or one-third, of all work-related injuries and illnesses were related to musculoskeletal disorders, like back injuries, carpal tunnel syndrome, and muscle strains.
The problem isn’t unique to the United States.
According to Jasonl Ergonomic Guide, “Safe Work Australia has reported that the cost of work related illness and injury has cost the Australian economy more than $60 billion per year, or 4.1% of the GDP, a large portion of which can be avoided by making smarter decision about how we work. ”
Poor workstation ergonomics is largely to blame for the pain and injuries desk workers develop. Workers who spend six hours a day at an uncomfortable and unsafe work station can develop chronic back pain, headaches, neck pain, decreased productivity, carpal tunnel syndrome, and poor mood.
When considering ergonomic design, experts have many suggestions. For proper, healthy alignment:
- Elbows should be above the desk at 90-110 degrees.
- Hips, ankles and knees should be at 90 degrees when seated.
- Head should be upright with ears aligned with the shoulders.
- Feet should be flat on the ground. A mat should be used in cases of prolonged sitting.
- Wrists should be in line with the forearms.
- Shoulders should be relaxed and not hunched.
- Backrest should be angled at 90-110 degrees with adequate lumbar support.
- Seat should be long enough to support beneath the thighs.
- Eyes should be looking at the top third of the screen.
- The letters G and H on the keyboard should be aligned with the nose.
An ergonomic workstation can go a long way in preventing injuries and back issues. The location of the workstation can also affect a person’s productivity and overall well-being.
Moving the desk to a window can help and will allow natural light to come through the office. It will also provide a view of the outdoors, which can help relieve stress while boosting productivity.
Experts also recommend adding greenery to the office and playing light music that creates a soothing ambiance. Adding color to the office can help foster a more positive workspace and attitude.
But when it comes to furniture, the most important investment you can make is in a good chair. An ergonomic chair that’s fitted to your personal body size and shape will help prevent pain and other issues associated with poor posture.
In the very least, an office chair should have an adjustable seat height option, a backrest, lumbar support and an adjustable seat depth. Ideally, it should also have a recline function. Memory foam is also a great option for office chairs, as it conforms to the body’s natural shape and provides support where it’s most needed (the lower lumbar area).
The desk is almost as important as the chair, though many experts now recommend using a standing desk. The same rules apply – your eyes should still be looking at the top third of the screen and your wrists should be in proper alignment.
But with a standing desk, according to Business Times, you have the added benefit of reducing or eliminating many of the problems that come with prolonged sitting. Being forced to stand most of the day will keep the blood flowing properly. It’s important to maintain a good balance between sitting and standing, so be sure to have a seat of the proper height nearby for those times when you need a rest.
Standing for prolonged periods of time can be hard on your feet and knees. Balance is the key.
Following these principles of ergonomics can help prevent pain and injury, but it’s still important to make sure that you’re getting up and moving around to help reduce the effects of sitting.