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October 17, 2011

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Home » Feature » Health and Environment

Desk jobs really are bad for health

WE spend a lot of time on our backsides, sitting far too many hours a day for our health.

Most people do know that sitting at a desk all day - with the wrong posture, wrong computer height and without proper breaks - can cause problems for the back, neck and shoulder muscles, as well as problems for the spine. They know that lack of exercise contributes to obesity.

But it is less well known that long-term sitting can also increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, varicose veins, indigestion and constipation.

What is needed is fewer hours spent seated, whether at work, home or elsewhere, more physical exercise and a good chair.

A recent online poll on Sina weibo (China's equivalent of Twitter) shows that 59 percent of Chinese respondents spent more than nine hours a day seated, which is longer than the average sleeping time of 7.7 hours.

There is a much higher rate of many diseases among people who sit more than six hours a day, according to many experts, including the American Cancer Society, which studied 120,000 people for 14 years. Compared with those who sat for around three hours a day, the death rate for six-hour sitters was 37 percent higher.

"Though sitting for a long time does not directly cause disease, if it becomes a habit, then it does affect health and gradually causes sub-health problems," says spine specialist Dr Zhao Qing, associate chief physician at the Yueyang Hospital attached to Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Spondylosis (degeneration of the bones and cartilage) of the neck and lumbar region are the most common problems directly caused by long periods of sitting, according to Zhao who says more than 50 percent of his patients re young office workers who sit almost all say long.

According to TCM it is very unhealthy to strain the body by doing anything for too long or staying one position - sitting, standing, lying down, walking and moving about, says Zhao. "Sitting for too long leads directly to inefficient circulation of energy and blood, thus causing various problems," he says.

The first sign of trouble is muscle ache, while bone damage and pain come later.

Varicose veins in legs and obesity are related problems, as are cardiovascular disease, indigestion and problems with the reproductive system.

Slower circulation slows the metabolism and fat that should be burned for energy remains in the blood as fat, a major cause of cardiovascular disease.

The World Health Organization reports that more than 2 million people develop problems like cardiovascular disease and diabetes from sedentary living. It warns that 70 percent of all diseases in 2020 may be caused by lack of exercise and sedentary lifestyle. Links have also been shown between some cancers and lack of exercise.

Slower blood and energy circulation and lower metabolism can lead to constipation and reduced secretion of digestive enzymes, in turn leading to poor appetite and indigestion. Hemorrhoids are also linked to sitting all day.

In addition, sitting for long periods puts pressure on internal organs and can be a factor in pelvic inflammation and inflammation of the uterus and other organs. It can contribute to urinary tract problems in men as well as reproductive problems caused by pressure on the genitals.

Less sitting and more moving helps, but exercise may not be as helpful as people think. US research shows that the proportion of Americans who exercise remained constant from 1980 to 2000, while the average "sitting" time increased by 9 percent. Lower fat metabolism from sitting may cancel or reduce the fat-burning effects of cardio exercise. Regular cardio several days a week for at least 40 minutes is generally recommended.

Dr Zhao suggests standing up and walking around every 40-60 minutes and doing easy stretching exercises for three to five minutes form time to time.

Lifting the legs one by one while seated and pounding on the legs can help restore blood circulation. Regular dumb bell exercises are recommended to strengthen shoulder and neck muscles.

While seated at a desk, there should be plenty of room to move arms and legs and shift position, improving energy flow and reducing strain.

A stable, straight-backed chair is important. Sitting with a straight back and feet flat on the floor is the best posture. Popular revolving chairs with wheels are not good, because people must keep muscles tense to keep the chair steady, says Dr Zhao. These chairs seldom support the lower back.


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