For many of us, the average day involves a lot of time spent sitting. At our desk for most of the workday. In the car during our commutes or running errands. On the bleachers at the kids’ sporting events. On the couch with our remotes, iPads or books in hand. You get the idea.
This type of sedentary lifestyle has led to a number of leading health experts to declare that sitting is the new smoking, meaning that the dangers of spending too much time on our rears are having serious effects on overall health.
Researchers have found that prolonged sitting increases the risk of developing serious illnesses like various types of cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes, and more research on the subject is being done every day. The Annals of Internal Medicine recently noted the review of more than 21,000 studies on the risk of sitting.
Sitting too much is dangerous even if you regularly exercise. Unless you have a job that keeps you moving, most of your non-exercise time is likely spent sitting. And that would make you an “active couch potato” a term coined by Australian researcher to describe exercisers who sit most of their day. A 12-year research study of more than 17,000 Canadians, found that the more time people spent sitting, the earlier they died—regardless of how much they exercised.
Here is some advice for trying to “kick the habit” and spend less time sitting every day:
Be more active at your desk
- Substitute a fitness ball for a standard office chair. Sitting on the unstable surface will activate your core muscles.
- Use a desk peddler, or do desk exercises.
- Stretch. Sitting is best mitigated by frequent movement, even if it’s only done for brief periods of time. One of the easiest ways to do this is to stretch at your desk.
- During phone calls, stand up and pace.
Stand more, but not too much
- Standing work stations are available commercially or you can DIY. The key is to make sure that the desk is at the appropriate height for you.
- Standing all day also comes with its own drawbacks, such as increased risk of varicose veins and musculoskeletal disorders. While you can stand for as long as it feels comfortable, most experts recommend a 50:50 sit-stand ratio.
Look for ways to be active throughout the day
- Take breaks – aim for about two breaks per hour. That could mean getting up for a glass of water, walking down the hall to visit co-workers or just doing a lap around the building.
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
- Have walking meetings. Many sources recommend walking during your next meeting, whether that means doing laps around the office or heading outside, if the weather permits. (Bonus: You’ll get some much needed vitamin D if you venture outside.)
- Have standing meetings where everyone stands for the entire meeting – an added benefit is that meetings tend to be shorter and more efficient. Or, at least take the opportunity to stand periodically during meetings.
- Fidget! While it might not seem like much, any interruption in sedentary time is a good move
- Walk over to a co-worker’s desk instead of calling or sending emails.
- Get a Fitbit or other tracking device to keep you focused on increasing your steps.
- Participate in a wellness challenge/competition.
- Park far from your destination and walk.