Why Your Job is Killing You (And Making You A Worse Runner)

office_workerThis shouldn’t be anything new.

If you haven’t already read countless articles on the topic, then you’ve probably figured it out on your own.

Your job is killing you.

Not to be all melodramatic on you or anything, but when you work in a 9 to 5 office like I do, it is hard not to notice that your job is killing you.

No, not because of the stress, or anxiety (which I’m sure aren’t helping), it is killing you because all you do, for 7, 8, 9, 10 hours a day, is sit.  You sit in a semi-comfortable (at best) desk chair and type.  You sit in an often less comfortable conference room chair and have meetings.  If you’re lucky, you get up in the middle of the day, walk a few blocks to a sandwich shop, and sit in an even less comfortable chair for lunch.

Then, to top it all off, we go home to read the paper, watch TV, chat with our family, and sit.

Now I know what you’re thinking, “But I’m a runner!  If I can run 20 miles on the weekend a little sitting during the week isn’t going to kill me.”

That’s what I always thought too.

But as discussed in the recent article Sitting is the New Smoking, published in Runner’s World, that old belief isn’t true.  And worst of all, sitting all day isn’t just killing us, it’s hurting our running!

The Butt of the Problem

Americans are sitting an average of 13 hours a day.  Let me assure you, that was not a typo.

Think about it, you commute, work, eat, watch TV, relax, and suddenly, 13 hours later,  you’ve spent over half the hours of a day sitting.  And that’s before you go to bed.

Numerous studies have shown that sitting is linked to heart disease, diabetes, and even cancer.  According to a study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, men have an 18% increased chance of dying from heart disease and a 7.8% increased change of dying from diabetes if they sit just 6 hours a day compared to someone who sits for 3 hours or less per day.

Worse still, according to Runners World:

The American Institute for Cancer Research now links prolonged sitting with increased risk of both breast and colon cancers.

And don’t think that just because you run several times a week it means you don’t have to worry about it.  As highlighted in a recent New York Times article:

Suppose you stick to a five-times-a-week gym regimen, as I do, and have put in a lifetime of hard cardio exercise, and have a resting heart rate that’s a significant fraction below the norm. That doesn’t inoculate you, apparently, from the perils of sitting.

In fact, research suggests that on days when you work out, you actually end up spending more time sitting than days you don’t work out at all.  You know how it goes, “I ran 10 miles today, I deserve this couch fest.”

Why it Affects Your Running

If dying isn’t convincing enough to get you off your butt, I’ll hit where I know it’s gonna hurt.  Your running.

Here are just a few of the reasons why sitting is making you a worse runner:

  • Runners need sturdiness in the spine to maintain stiffness in the core, which powers your hips and legs.  You guessed it, sitting for just 20 minutes stretches the spine, relaxing your muscles so much it can take 45 minutes to regain back the stiffness.
  • Sitting tightens up your hip flexors, which impairs your range of motion.
  • Your glutes stretch out and lengthen during prolonged sitting, hurting your leg turn-over rate and stability, and can lead to numerous types of running related injury.
  • Sitting over your computer all day weakens the lower back, and we all know a weak lower back leads to poor form and injury.
  • Lack of leg movement reduces circulation flow, raising your blood sugar and weakening your heart.

The Simple Solution


Damn, sitting sure does cause a lot of issues.  What can we do about it?

Easy.  Get your butt off that seat!  This isn’t one of those complicated equations where A x B does not equal C.

The best way to counteract sitting too much is to sit less.

Lucky for all of us, that is easier than you might think:

  1. Take breaks to get up often.  And I mean really often.  Set a timer on your computer to get up every 30 minutes and take a walk around the house or office.  Take a page out of the Zen Habits playbook and for the month and try to never sit for more than 30 minutes at a time (see bottom of his post).
  2. Create a standing desk.  Standing desks are now available for purchase in many different shapes and sizes, but you don’t have to buy anything to convert your desk.  I use office supplies and a sturdy box to raise my computer to a comfortable height and stand for roughly 3 hours each working day.  HowToGeek has some good tips and tricks for DIY standing desks.
  3. Spend time stretching or doing light asana yoga when watching TV or a movie (at home), or even a little desk yoga at work.
  4. Talk on the phone standing up.  Maybe a standing desk isn’t an option, so make a rule to only talk on the phone standing up.
  5. Drink more water.  The more you drink, the more often you have to go fill up your glass…and the more often you have to hit the bathroom!
  6. Get a new job where sitting all day isn’t a standard.  This may not be an option for you, but thinking outside the box with employment may not only help you sit less, but might also lead to doing what you love.
  7. When you have the option, stand up! This might be on the bus, metro, waiting at a doctor’s office, eating lunch at a counter or having a beer at the bar.  When given the option, we usually choose to sit.  Maybe that habit is outdated.

Sitting is one of those habits where the more we do it, the more we want to do it.  Thankfully, it’s an easy habit to break.

Take care of yourself to save your life, and most importantly, your running.

Photo Credit

doug-rattlesnake-squareAbout Doug Hay: Trail and ultra running are intimidating. I know, because for the longest time, I was too scared to even give it a try. My mission at Rock Creek Runner is to eliminate that fear, and make trail and ultrarunning easy and accessible to anyone who wants it. Click here to learn more.


36 Responses to Why Your Job is Killing You (And Making You A Worse Runner)

  1. “sitting is the new smoking”

    that point really brings it home for me. my goal is always to get moving 10 minutes per hour but maybe I need to be doing more. thanks for the article

    • Hey Tony, thanks for reading!

      “Sitting is the new smoking” really rang true to me as well. It’s a habit we form and do without thinking, but it is slowing causing major health issues.

      My focus for a long time was just to get up and walk around often, which I think is great, but the last several weeks I’ve been standing at work for at least 2-3 hours a day at work and it has done wonders for my energy level. I just feel better.

  2. Almost seems like sitting is WORSE than smoking, even. How eye-opening indeed. Thanks for posting this, Doug. I found myself exploring for ways to elevate my desk as I read this…

    • Will – It almost does!

      My first attempt at a standing desk was a bunch of flimsy boxes which took 10 minutes to set up. Thankfully my setup is a bit more sophisticated now! Good luck!

      • I do a lot of my work from home. I find myself lounging in bed / on a couch relatively regularly. I’m probably going to die before 40. :(

        What is your desk setup like now?

  3. Great post Doug!

    There are a few people who stand at their desks in my office, but unfortunatley I’m not one of them – yet. I also try to get up and move around at least once an hour, but it’s easy to get caught up with work and go a few hours without getting up (like this morning).

    Having said that, building a standing work station is on my wish list.

  4. Sitting for 13 hours a day also not good for kidney. For that, workers must drink at least 2 liter per day.

  5. Issamu Kamide says:

    I know this is a running blog, but it’s “melodramatic.” Come on, people.

    • Ah yes, melodramatic. Corrected.

  6. I used to sit about 6 hours a day. maybe it’s bad, but what to do. sometimes waist began to ache. only a short break I can do

  7. to avoid diseases due to prolonged sitting is drink plenty of water

  8. moving and drinking plenty of water to avoid diseases due to prolonged sitting

  9. try to exercise regularly at least once a week so that normal body functions as a result of a lot of sitting while working

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