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What's Really Killing You (and It Isn't Ebola)

What's Really Killing You (and It Isn't Ebola)
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Do yourself a favor and turn off the endless media loop of doom and gloom regarding the Ebola virus.

There’s another disease you’re voluntarily subjecting yourself to daily and it’s more dangerous than Ebola. It’s a silent assassin and you’re probably doing it right now as you’re reading this. It’s called sitting disease. That’s what medical experts are referring to the sedentary work environment we have created for ourselves. There are serious health consequences to this.

Sitting might be the most dangerous thing you do each day. It’s as bad as smoking. Physical inactivity increases the chances of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and certain types of cancer (colon, breast). In a recent study, 200,000 people were surveyed over a three-year period and it was found that sitting down for more than 11 hours a day can increase your risk of death by 40 percent compared to people who sit four hours a day or less. People with desk jobs have twice the rate of heart disease than those with active jobs.

Americans spend more time on average sitting (9.4 hours) than they do sleeping (7.3 hours). For every hour you spend sitting you decrease your lifespan by two hours. Let that sink in for a minute. Are you still sitting down? The goal of my column isn’t to be thought provoking -- it’s to be change provoking. With that in mind, I’m going to ask you to stand up now while you read the rest of this article.

“For people who sit most of the day, their risk of heart attack is about the same as smoking,” says Mayo Clinic cardiologist Martha Grogan.

Related: 5 Reasons to Get Off Your Butt at Work

Women who were inactive and sat more than six hours a day were 94 percent more likely to die during the time period studied (1993 to 2006) than those who were physically active and sat less than three hours a day, according to a study by the American Cancer Society. The statistic for men isn’t quite so grim. They were at a 48 percent greater risk.

If you think, “This doesn’t apply to me, I work out regularly” -- think again. Research by Dr. Genevieve Healy indicates that even 30 minutes of daily exercise won’t counter the detrimental effects of prolonged sitting each day.

The latest CDC findings of 2010 revealed the following:

  • Heart disease was responsible for 596,577 deaths.
  • Cancer was responsible for 576,691 deaths.
  • Diabetes was responsible for 73,831 deaths.

Now consider this, less than 5,000 people have died from Ebola in the entire world this year. And to date only one person in the U.S. has died of Ebola, while 300,000 have died of obesity this year.

Among the other leading causes of death in the U.S. are:

When you look at the aforementioned causes of death, they all have one thing in common with sitting. Smoking is a choice, drinking is a choice, over-eating and not getting a flu shot are choices too. So is over-sitting.

We not only know the major causes of death in the U.S., we also know what can be done to prevent them. Often the problem is that we know what to do but we don’t do what we know. Interestingly we don’t know about Ebola but we sure do find ourselves obsessing about the “what if’s” of it instead of focusing on things we can control like how much we sit.

Related: What Employers Need to Know About Ebola for Now

The media is trying to scare you into worrying about a big what if. Don’t take the bait.

Look at it this way, have you ever been bitten by an elephant? Most everyone will answer no to this question. Have you been bitten about a mosquito? Most everyone will answer yes to that one. The takeaway is that it’s the little things in our work day that bite us. Little things like how much we eat, drink and sit.

When it comes to our wealth and our health, when things go wrong it’s usually the cumulative effect of little things that build up over time. Little things that you can control make a big difference. According to JustStand.org, standing a little more each day increases your muscle tone, improves posture, increases blood flow, raises your metabolism and burns more calories.

As entrepreneurs we treasure what we measure. You treasure your life so start measuring how much you are shortening it. Wear a timer or stopwatch for 24 hours and keep a running tally of how much time you spend sitting. Hit pause when you’re standing. Before you go to bed, add it up. You can even make it public and keep score with your colleagues. Just by making it public you will be more apt to change. Case in point: I went from sitting 63 hours a week to 30 by following this simple game plan. You can do the same.

Add one of the following strategies each week for the next four weeks:

1. Set a timer to go off every 20 minutes. When it beeps, stand up, stretch and walk around (even if you’re on an airplane).

2. Hold standing meetings. Besides the benefit of just getting off your “anatomy” it will keep the focus of the meeting tighter and the length of it shorter. People may hate it at first, but when they see how much less time they waste in boring meetings they will love you for it.

3. Schedule walking meetings outdoors. If you want outside-the-box ideas, get outside that box you call your cubicle. Fresh air can bring about fresh perspectives -- literally. Creatives, designers and writers take note.

4. Invest in a standing desk. We are talking about your life here. Remember what one hour of sitting does to your life span?

There’s a saying in television media, “If it bleeds, it leads.” This would explain the media’s propensity to focus on things such as Ebola, accidents, fires and murders.

Take a stand (pun intended) by tuning them out. Let them focus on catastrophe while you maintain a healthy perspective and focus on the little things you have control over.

Related: How Treadmill Desks Can Improve Your Health and Productivity