The US Federal Office of Personnel Management defines telework by the parameters set out in the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010: “In practice, “telework” is a work arrangement that allows an employee to perform work, during any part of regular, paid hours, at an approved alternative worksite (e.g., home, telework center).” Telework almost sounds too good to be true—working from home, no frustrating commute, and paid the same amount as if you were going to the office? Telework is an incredible practice more and more companies are adopting, especially in a post-Covid working world. Teleworking boasts many benefits to employees, companies, and even the environment. Studies show telework produces a 22% increase in employee productivity, a 20% decrease in employee turnover, and a 60% decrease in employee absenteeism. However, there is one incredibly dangerous downside to teleworking: sitting. This is why telework health is so important.
Sitting for too long at your desk has proven health risks that are similar to the effects of smoking on the body! Though telework cannot shoulder the entire blame for the overall increase in our sedentary lifestyles, SHRM says, “Nearly 70 percent of professionals who transitioned to remote work because of the pandemic say they now work on the weekends, and 45 percent say they regularly work more hours during the week than they did before, according to a survey of 2,800 workers by Los Angeles-based staffing firm Robert Half.” That means more than ever the working professional is sitting for way longer than our bodies were ever meant to.
Let’s examine a bit closer. A study published in 2018 says to compare the health risks of smoking tobacco products to the health risks of prolonged sitting is an unfair comparison that requires further investigation; however, they also report that “excessive sitting time almost doubles the risk of type 2 diabetes, but only increases incidence and mortality risk associated with other common chronic diseases by approximately 10% to 20%.” Ultimately the study reported that smoking is still far worse than sitting, but sitting for too long is still a dangerous factor in certain common health risks and they are comparable because both voluntary activities negatively affect our overall health. The Heart Foundation cites a 2011 study that found prolonged sitting has a 112% increased risk of diabetes, 147% increased risk of cardiovascular events like heart attack and stroke, 90% increased risk of death from cardiovascular events, and a 49% increased risk of death from any cause! According to Science Daily, “Smoking increases the risk of premature death from any cause by approximately 180 percent.” Still, in the same article they acknowledge, “excessive sitting (roughly more than eight hours a day) increases the risk of premature death and some chronic diseases by 10-20%…” Therefore, sitting isn’t as damaging to your health as smoking but it is damaging to your health! I’m not sure about you, but a 10-20% increase is high enough for me. If you’re a smoker and a teleworker, you especially should be thinking about these increased risks to your health.
Why is sitting so bad for our health? As one article reports, “Humans are built to stand upright. Your heart and cardiovascular system work more effectively that way.” The Mayo Clinic expands upon this assertion by saying, “Research has linked sitting for long periods of time with a number of health concerns. They include obesity and a cluster of conditions — increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol levels — that make up metabolic syndrome. Too much sitting overall and prolonged periods of sitting also seem to increase the risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer.” The Heart Foundation provides further scientific evidence to support why prolonged sitting is bad for our health:
· Blood flow slows down. This can allow fatty acids to build up in the blood vessels, leading to heart disease.
· Sitting for extended periods of time, regularly may lead to insulin resistance which can cause type 2 diabetes and obesity—2 major risk factors for heart disease.
· A 2018 study found that 82% of people who suffer from blood clots, sat for a significantly greater amount of time than the remaining 18%.
· Your body’s ability to process fats is slowed. When you sit, your body’s production of lipoprotein lipase (an enzyme essential for breaking down fat) drops by about 90%. When your body cannot break down fat, it is stored instead.
Now that we have a pretty clear picture of why excessive sitting is so dangerous for our health, what exactly can we do about it? We can’t stand all the time and companies are increasing their dependence on telework even after offices are opening up again. The Mayo Clinic suggests two helpful tips: “Take a break from sitting every 30 minutes.
Stand while talking on the phone or watching television. If you work at a desk, try a standing desk — or improvise with a high table or counter.” Also, don’t forget the importance of working out, stretching, or even just taking a walk at lunchtime.
Just as our lungs were not designed to inhale and filter toxic smoke all day, our bodies also were not built for a sedentary lifestyle. It’s time to stand up and prioritize our health.