Excessive sitting—coined “sitting disease”—is linked to over 30 chronic diseases and conditions. By some estimates, sitting too much can harm your health more than smoking! Over a half-dozen studies also report that prolonged sitting (and a low daily step count) can even undo the beneficial effects of exercise. There’s a simple fix that you can start doing today to protect your body from a sedentary lifestyle; find more ways to move!
When you get up and move, all parts of your body benefit. Moving more increases blood flow to your brain so you release more feel-good chemicals that increase productivity, improve mood, and reduce fatigue and food cravings. You’ll also move more blood throughout your body, helping recirculate blood that may have pooled in your lower limbs while sitting. Standing will engage your core, activating your abdominal muscles, protecting your lower back from pain. Changing to a standing posture can even keep your internal organs in top shape.
In one study, 17 hours of sitting per day made insulin nearly 40-percent less effective in healthy adults—a change that may result in elevated blood sugar, lower energy levels, and an increased risk for type 2 diabetes. Another study found that one-hour of moderate-intensity activity wasn’t enough to counteract the metabolic damages caused by too much sitting. This study defined excessive sitting as sitting for 13 hours or more per day with a low step count (3,500-4,000 steps per day). Although both studies were small in scale, sedentary behavior seemed to make individuals resistant to the health benefits that typically accompany an exercise session. Researchers call this exercise resistance, a condition where too much sedentary behavior (i.e., sitting) causes metabolic changes that even a bout of physical activity cannot mend.
You can make the most of exercise routine and avoid the risks of a sedentary lifestyle by working additional movement into your day. Fixing sedentary habits takes determination, but the value of increasing your activity is far more beneficial than sticking with the status quo. What will get you moving? Here are some ideas from Be Well Solutions staff:
“I try not to go more than 1-2 hours without getting up to do something (stretch, fill up water).
When my motion sensor light goes off in my office, I use that as a cue to move.
If I drink enough water, that usually forces me to get up more often (for obvious reasons!).
I get up every time I have to mail something rather than collecting multiple items.”
“I try to stand as much as possible but realize some work is easier done while sitting.
I also go to the gym on my lunch break which allows me to be active for 30-40 minutes and come back to work refreshed.
I have the 10-minute reminder on my Fitbit which tells me to get up and walk if I didn’t meet my 250 steps per hour goal.”
“I use a small mug for my water instead of a large water bottle so that I’m forced to get up and refill my water throughout the day.
I like to go for a walk during my lunch break.
I use my standing desk [see tips below] whenever appropriate – I find that some work is easy to complete while standing while other work requires me to sit and focus more. I stand during meetings too!”
“When I need to ask someone a question, I walk to their cube/office instead of calling or using Teams (instant messenger).
Sometimes I will walk a lap around the office before heading to the restroom or kitchen.”
“I try to take a walk every day after lunch, even if it’s only for 5-10 minutes.
I’m a fan of walking to a coworkers’ desks when I have a question or want to talk about an idea.
Sometimes, I’ll take a walking meeting to brainstorm ideas or discuss current projects that don’t require taking notes on a laptop or notepad.
I try alternating my coffee and water, so if I go to the kitchen to get a cup of coffee, I won’t bring my water. Then, when I need more water, I won’t bring my mug.
If I miss my post-lunch walk, I try and grab one around 2 or 3 in the afternoon.
I also stand at the copier or printer when I’m waiting for something to print instead of sitting at my desk and waiting.”
“I’m a big proponent of fitness trackers that remind you to move periodically during the day. I’m rather strict about following my Apple Watch’s stand and move suggestions.
When I use my standing desk, I shift my weight often and try to stand actively by stepping in place or doing slow butt kicks and calf raises.
I love taking 1-2 laps around the office building when my mind feels sluggish. I usually come back to my desk with clarity.
I try to take the long route around the office to the restroom, kitchen, or to my car.
You might find me stretching on the floor of my cubicle or doing bodyweight squats and lunges when (I think) no one’s looking!
I don’t have any myself, but people I know keep resistance bands at their desk so they can do exercises like these. Resistance bands are inexpensive and multi-functional!”
Standing desk tips
If you have access to a standing desk, experts suggest progressing towards standing at least two hours per day dispersed with light activity, like walking. Over time, work towards standing for half of the workday, or for four hours. As you increase how much you stand, be aware you might experience initial discomfort; your body will need to adjust as you begin using muscles that haven’t been worked much. You can try anti-fatigue floor mats for added comfort and safety while standing on hard surfaces. When standing, choose shoes that offer support but avoid high-heeled shoes and shoes without heels.