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  • Writer's pictureJameela M

Is your office slowly killing you?

Experts call sitting the new smoking with a 60 per cent higher risk of a heart attack.

What would you say if I told you that your work life was slowly but surely killing you? The grim truth just may keep the grim reaper at bay as health experts warn of the dangerous repercussions of leading a sedentary life.

“Do you know sitting is the new smoking?” warns Dubai-based physiotherapist Jameela Ezzi. “You may not be smoking daily but your prolonged seating habits are exposing you to this health hazard.”

According to Ezzi, studies show individuals are at a 60 per cent higher risk of getting heart attacks, a 60 per cent higher risk of diabetes and cancer as well.

“All of it has been linked just to sitting for long periods,” Ezzi stresses. “You come to work and you are in this corporate environment and sit for eight to 10 hours. You’re trying to meet your given targets and goals. This kind of lifestyle must undergo a change.”

According to the Dubai Health Authority, heart disease is the number one cause of death in the emirate today. A report by the World Health Organisation on the UAE further lists that non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular issues, cancers, respiratory diseases and diabetes account for 65.2 per cent of all deaths.

The benefits of low-intensity physical activity such as standing, walking or doing household chores, can be more health beneficial than once thought. According to a recent study from the Karolinska Institutet published in the journal Clinical Epidemiology, replacing half an hour’s sedentariness a day with everyday activity reduces the risk of fatal cardiovascular disease by 24 per cent.

“It is absolutely [essential] for one’s health to get moving and keep it that way throughout the work day,” says Ezzi. “This is not the time for excuses; it’s the time for action.”

The physiotherapist shares lifestyles tips and tricks that can be incorporated into the daily work schedule to make your office environment healthier.

30-minute movements

Ezzi advises standing up every 30 minutes to allow some movement of your body.

“Set an alarm and stand up for a few minutes, even if it is something simple as a walk to the water cooler,” she says. “If you prefer, why don’t you stand up to greet every email that you receive?”

According to the Karolinska Institutet study, replacing sedentariness with physical activity of at least moderate level equivalent to a brisk walk, or higher intensity training, had, as expected, an even greater effect on cardiovascular-related mortality. Ten minutes of moderate to intense activity a day reduced the risk of death due to cardiovascular disease by 38 per cent, 30 minutes a day by a full 77 per cent, according to their calculations.

Desk workout

Ezzi recommends doing simple basic exercises at your desk at 30 minute intervals.

“Try push-ups at short intervals by using your table, or even attempt lunges,” she explains. “Sometimes it’s as simple as exercising your calf muscles by simple lifting your heel.”

Other table exercises recommended include interlacing your fingers and raising your arms you’re your head for a stretch. Simple bicep curls and shrugs (where you raise your shoulders up and hold for a few seconds and release) are also recommended by Ezzi.

Standing meetings

If you have meeting with somebody, why don’t you stand and meet, asks Ezzi. She isn’t alone in raising this question.

Marc Hamilton, an inactivity researcher at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in the US recently spoke about the harmful effects of physical inactivity in the New York Times. According to his findings, sitting on chairs for too long caused the electrical activity in the muscles to drop: “The muscles go as silent as those of a dead horse,” Hamilton says, leading to a cascade of harmful metabolic effects. Your calorie-burning rate immediately plunges to about one per minute, a third of what it would be if you got up and walked.

The research further indicated that insulin effectiveness drops as well, increasing the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

“This is why I recommend standing workstations in offices or even reducing the chairs in the conference rooms,” says Ezzi. “Or simply take turns to stand in meetings.”

Check your water intake

Staying hydrated at work is one of the key health issues facing people today, say health experts. Busy work schedules, deadlines or meetings force people to sometimes forget to drink water through the day.

The UK’s Natural Hydration Council, which encourages healthy practices at the workplace, states that staying hydrated not only helps to improve work productivity, but it also helps to perform better mentally and physically.

Ezzi recommends setting an alarm on your phones or smartwatch to remind you to drink water every half-hour.

“Partner up. Create a buddy system with a colleague where each one reminds the other they need to drink up,” she says. “Turn it into a fun competition even to see who is able to finish their daily intake.”

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