Once upon a time, most Americans were farmers. They worked a plot of land, raised their own livestock, and made much of what they had by hand. Problems like obesity and heart disease were far less common than today.
Over time, technology advanced, farm output grew, and people moved to cities. More and more people found themselves behind a desk. Today, a small number of farmers raise all the food for a nation of stockbrokers, retail clerks, and high tech employees. A record number of us spend our days at a desk.
Meanwhile, obesity is epidemic, heart disease is a constant threat, and our level of fitness is headed down the tubes.
Studies show this inactivity is cutting years from our lives. Now science is looking at how we can reverse this trend.
And we’re finding answers.
A Desk Job Can Be the Death of You
Doctors have known for a long time that “desk jockeys” are more likely to suffer from a number of health issues… as well as die early. But we didn’t know if sitting at a desk all day was the cause of these health issues.
That question was pretty much put to rest in 2016 by an article in the journal BMC Public Health. And Australian-led team dug up studies on sedentary jobs and health. They found 8 systematic reviews on all-cause mortality and a sedentary lifestyle.
After carefully parsing the reviews, they found ample evidence that inactivity leads to a higher risk of all-cause mortality. In simple terms, if you spend your day at a desk, you run a higher risk of cancer, heart disease, and other major health issues.
Not that people want to spend their day glued to a desk. In fact, a study from November 2017 found just the opposite.
Most desk jockeys would rather cut out a third of their sitting time. And almost double the time they spend walking on the job. Workers even said they’d prefer to almost double the time they spend working at “physically demanding tasks.”
But how do you meet the physical needs of employees… and the work demands of employers? The answer may be simpler than you think.
Can You Really Work Out at Your Desk? Apparently, You Can.
With all the talk about standing desks – and with the evidence they may not be much better than sitting – is there really an easy way to make everyone happy?
Researchers at East Carolina University may have found a quick and easy solution.
Back in 2011, this team tested under-desk pedaling devices. You’ve probably seen them: A simple set of pedals on a small stand that fits under your desk. Basic models just let you pedal while you sit. More advanced units have variable resistance and other features.
The East Carolina scientists tested 18 volunteers who spent a whopping 83% of their time sitting at a desk. Over four weeks, they averaged 23.4 minutes of pedaling time daily. All while working at their desks.
The most ambitious in the group burned an extra 500 calories – and pedaled the equivalent of 13.5 miles – on their best days.
The devices were a hit with the volunteers and didn’t interfere with their workday. At the time, the exercise machines cost about $129 each. So we’re talking about a higher end model. The researchers also spent $49 per person on software to monitor their progress.
But the experiment worked. The volunteers improved their overall fitness, reduced sedentary time, and burned extra calories. And it didn’t take away from work time.
But Is This Idea Practical?
Employers are willing to spend hundreds of dollars on fancy “standing desks.” So investing a couple of hundred bucks for an even healthier alternative doesn’t seem out of the question.
Quality units with magnetic resistance are fairly quiet and start at under $100. These better units usually come with secure non-skid feet for safety and adjustable tension.
Prices run all the way up to about $500 for a stand-alone unit with a built-in desktop. These units have a smaller footprint than a traditional desk, so may be ideal for anyone working at home.
Either way, pedaling at a moderate pace for just 10 minutes out of each hour delivers 80 minutes of daily exercise. Without interfering with your workday. Done Monday through Friday, that totals 400 minutes of activity. That’s more than twice the weekly minimum recommended for maintaining good health.
And here’s the kicker… A brand new study published in the journal BMC Medicine looked at 391,089 workers. The authors found all sedentary workers don’t suffer the same risks.
If you’re fit, the effects of a sedentary job are far less than if you’re not. So, investing in a simple $100 device may just be the easiest way to cut your risk of obesity, heart problems, cancer, and more.
About the Author: Jason Kennedy is a celebrated investigative health writer and the author of The X-Factor Revolution and Beyond the Blue Zone. With over 10 years of experience working with today’s leading alternative and anti-aging doctors, Jason shares his insider status and access to the latest breakthroughs with thousands of readers from around world.
Biddle, S.J.H., et al, “Too much sitting and all-cause mortality: is there a causal link?” BMC Public Health. 2016; 16: 635.
“Employees want to sit down less and walk more during work days,” BioMed Central. 2017.
Carr, L.J., et al, “Feasibility of a portable pedal exercise machine for reducing sedentary time in the workplace,” Br J Sports Med. May 2012; 46(6): 430-435.
Hendrick, B., “Sedentary Job? Try Pedaling at Your Desk,” WebMD. Feb 14, 2011.
“Time spent sitting at a screen matters less if you are fit and strong,” BioMed Central. May 23, 2018.
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