Many of us work long hours in an office, and considering how different and distant this is from the ancestral environment to which we are adapted, this could have deleterious health consequences. So here are a couple ways to stay healthy at the office.
Probably the most important consequence of being in an office is that office workers normally sit at desks all day, and this is also the main cause of adverse health.
Sedentary behavior is associated with a large increase in mortality risk, the people in the highest quartile of sedentary time having a six-fold greater risk.
It’s important to note here that sitting or rest of any kind causes bad things to happen in a relatively short time. Even if you’re not generally sedentary, sitting all day in an office is not good. Prolonged bed rest is even worse, and causes a massive loss of muscle, one of the worst things for your health.
Lipoprotein lipase is an enzyme that’s responsible for triglyceride uptake and HDL synthesis, and prolonged sitting leads to suppression of its synthesis.(1)
More importantly, but related to lipase, is that insulin resistance increases with sitting. One day of sitting reduces the action of insulin by around 40% in healthy men and women.(2)
A surprisingly small amount of activity can counteract the increase in insulin sensitivity that sitting causes.
A study was done using overweight or obese adults to see what the effects were of breaking up prolonged sitting. This was a crossover trial, so all the participants completed each condition, which were as follows(3):
After an initial 2-hour period of sitting, participants drank a standardized test drink containing 75 grams of glucose and 50 grams of fat, and their insulin and glucose levels were measured.
The results for glucose:
The results for insulin (not shown) were similar. Both light and moderate walking, for 2 minutes out of every 20, substantially improved insulin sensitivity over uninterrupted prolonged sitting.
The lesson here is clear: don’t sit all the time. Doing so could be hazardous to your health.
Noteworthy is that a surprisingly small amount of activity counteracted the effects of sitting. Light walking – light as judged by the participants – was nearly as effective as moderate walking.
So, sitting should be broken up by activity as much as possible. Even a walk down the hall and back (maybe to chat with the administrative assistant) can be beneficial.
The other option is a standing desk. If you can’t get one at work, you could use one at home.
Personally, I like to stand as much as possible, no matter what I’m doing. A standing cocktail hour is a great idea.
Another hazard of office work is being indoors under artificial lighting all day. Fluorescent lighting is the worst in that regard, as its spectrum of light doesn’t match light from the sun. Circadian rhythms can be thrown out of whack.
One simple way to ensure that circadian rhythms are entrained properly even when working at the office is to get sunlight on the way to work, when driving for instance. According to Dr. Daniel Kripke, a psychiatrist who specializes in sleep and light, just driving to work without sunglasses could be enough to offset being indoors all day.
If you work late at the office or another place with fluorescent lighting, consider using blue-blocking glasses, as this will block blue wavelengths of light and promote better sleep.