Sperling Prostate Center

On-The-Job Health Advice: Get Off Your Butt

What do these jobs have in common: architect, engineer, computer, corporate executive, accountant? These and other technical or office professions involve prolonged sitting. Whether at a desk, lab bench, or meeting room, men in these professions have their butts in a chair for long hours.

Guys, a new study says your job may be threatening your life. “Occupational Sitting Time, Leisure Physical Activity, and All-Cause and Cardiovascular Disease Mortality” by Gao, et al. was published in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in January, 2024.[i] If you haven’t already made a New Year’s resolution, the contents of this study may inspire you to get off your butt while you’re on the job.

Sitting in an office chair is what’s known as a sedentary behavior, which means you tend to spend long periods sitting. Whether you realize it or not, prolonged sitting has negative health consequences. To address this, the Gao study was designed to “quantify health risks associated with prolonged occupational sitting.” Also, the team wanted to find out if there’s a certain threshold of physical activity that can lessen its harmful consequences.

The authors tracked 481,688 people, of whom nearly half were men, between 1996-2017. All were at least age 20, and none had cardiovascular disease at the start of the study. The research team collected data on three levels of occupational sitting (mostly sitting, mostly non-sitting, and alternating between the two). In addition, they gathered information about participants’ leisure time, physical activity, lifestyle, and metabolic factors (body-mass index, blood pressure, cholesterol and fasting blood sugar). Finally, the authors had access to a national registry of death records, and their analysis included death from all causes (all-cause mortality). Thus, they were able to correlate occupational physical activity level with death rates from any cause.

Study findings

Of the study population, 26257 people died during follow-up average period of 12.85 years. “After adjusting for sex, age, education, smoking, drinking, and body mass index, individual who mostly sat at work had a 16% higher all-cause mortality risk…and a 34% increased mortality risk from CVD [cardiovascular disease] …” when compared with persons in mostly non-sitting jobs.

However, these risks were offset to a greater or lesser degree by leisure time physical activity. Those who typically engaged in no or low leisure time exercise, but then increased their level by 15-30 minutes per day, reduced their mortality risk “to a level similar to that of inactive individuals who mostly do not sit at work.”

How does all that sitting harm the body? The authors condense numerous studies into a short paragraph:

Several explanations have been proposed to explain the harms of prolonged sitting. These include a lack of exercise of the large muscles in the lower limbs and trunk with increased blood flow to lower extremities, as well as the presence of a biomarker for low-grade inflammation. Such factors can lead to reduced insulin action, diabetes, obesity, metabolic syndrome, and reduced kidney function. Because individuals working long hours often share many characteristics with those who have a sedentary lifestyle, it is not surprising that a similar amplification of CVD risks has been reported in a number of studies.

The authors point out that prolonged sitting at work has become accepted as normal, though previous studies have shown that it has a negative impact on cardiovascular health, metabolic wellness (obesity and diabetes) and even some findings of higher cancer risk. To counter this trend, the authors suggest re-normalizing work activity to include alternating sitting with nonsitting throughout the day, plus an extra 15-30 minutes of leisure time exercise or light workouts. Their specific suggestions include:

  • Incorporating regular breaks during the workday,
  • Make standing desks/tables available, or activity permissive workstations
  • Facilitate leisure time activity by providing designated activity areas or offering company sponsored group workouts.

The conclusion is literally a healthier “bottom” line: Take work breaks to get off your butt!

NOTE: This content is solely for purposes of information and does not substitute for diagnostic or medical advice. Talk to your doctor if you are experiencing pelvic pain, or have any other health concerns or questions of a personal medical nature.

[i] Gao W, Sanna M, Chen YH, Tsai MK, Wen CP. Occupational Sitting Time, Leisure Physical Activity, and All-Cause and Cardiovascular Disease Mortality. JAMA Netw Open. 2024 Jan 2;7(1):e2350680.


About Dr. Dan Sperling

Dan Sperling, MD, DABR, is a board certified radiologist who is globally recognized as a leader in multiparametric MRI for the detection and diagnosis of a range of disease conditions. As Medical Director of the Sperling Prostate Center, Sperling Medical Group and Sperling Neurosurgery Associates, he and his team are on the leading edge of significant change in medical practice. He is the co-author of the new patient book Redefining Prostate Cancer, and is a contributing author on over 25 published studies. For more information, contact the Sperling Prostate Center.

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