Binge-watching your favorite TV series, hours logged at work and your never-ending commute. All these bottom-heavy tasks add up to more time spent on your tush than on your toes.
The list of ailments and chronic conditions brought on by sitting is long. Organ damage, an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and even certain types of cancer are just some of the problems it can lead to. It can also increase the risk of developing dementia, weight gain, loss of brain power, back and neck issues, and muscle degeneration.
But how can you be healthier when your job keeps you seated? The answer may be to do less uninterrupted sitting by adding rounds of stretching and movement breaks to your day.
Suzi Murphy, a health and well-being consultant, shares her insight on the over-sitting situation.
“As our technology has increased, so has our sitting,” Murphy says. “But humans are not designed to sit all day. We aren’t like computers. Our bodies actually start to shut down when not in use. Our metabolic rate drops, making us burn calories at a lower rate. And over time, our risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes go up.”
The key, she says, is to not lock yourself down to your desk all day. “Little bits of movement can negate the unhealthy risks associated with sitting.”
Murphy helps desk-bound employees remember to “Sit for 60, move for two.” Using a calendar alert, this simple program reminds them to move from sitting to standing once every hour for two minutes. You can enjoy the same benefits by setting an hourly timer to get you moving during your chair-bound hours.
Small amounts of movement can create big benefits to overall health. And this movement can help to “reset” the mind and body to improve focus and create a greater sense of well-being.
Many corporate cubicle cultures are taking a stand by offering nontraditional desk options. Adjustable desks with an option to stand are becoming more popular. While standing too long can certainly cause problems, having the option to move around and stand for a couple of hours can be beneficial.
According to Dr. Alan Hedge, a professor at Cornell University’s College of Human Ecology, a daily rotation among sitting, standing and moving can help keep workers comfortable, healthy and productive.
Based on his research, Dr. Hedge recommends a daily work schedule of five hours of sitting, 16 sit-to-stand changes, two hours of standing and 30 minutes of moving. If you’re on a budget, there are inexpensive standing desk options.
Walking and Typing
While it isn’t realistic to have an office packed with treadmills instead of cubicles, some work environments offer treadmill desks that allow workers to walk a slow, zero-incline pace as they work on their computers or take a call. However, the treadmill desks are best used for shorter periods rather than all day.
Have a Ball
Some workers like to ditch the office chair and work on an oversized stability ball. But use caution. While this option puts more of your muscles in motion, it also puts you at risk for slouching or — even worse — falling off and injuring yourself.
Some experts recommend using the ball as a 20- to 30-minute break from regular chair sitting. Pick a ball between 45 cm and 65 cm that is appropriate for your height.
Curing Couch Potatoes
When you get home from the office, is it time to tune out and crash on the couch? Get moving to a more active lifestyle at home by keeping a log of your TV time. You might be shocked to learn how many hours you lose in front of the tube. For the average American adult, it’s nearly 35 hours each week.
Try setting a daily limit for your sedentary hobbies. And try these tips for spending less time on your backside:
- Avoid channel surfing. After your favorite show, hit the off switch and go take a walk.
- Lift dumbbells, stretch with resistance bands or pace around the room during commercials.
- Take regular breaks to do something active, such as loading the dishwasher or standing and folding the laundry.
- During breaks or commercials, do jumping jacks. Climb the stairs. March in place. Stretch. Wrestle or play with your kids or your pet.
Every little bit counts.
Whether you’re at work, at home or away, try to take a walk every day. The goal is to get at least 150 minutes of activity per week. You can break that down into short walks of 20 or 30 minutes, or even just 15 minutes. Walk outside in the fresh air or take a few laps around your office hallways. Research shows that just a few minutes of activity a day may help to make a difference in living a longer, healthier life.
Sources: “The best standing desks,” Wirecutter, Nov. 7, 2017; “This Is What Happens to Your Body When You Sit Too Long,” Travel and Leisure, Jan. 19, 2017; “Sitting and Standing at Work,” Cornell University Ergonomics Web; “Should You Swap Your Chair for an Exercise Ball?” Prevention, Nov. 10, 2017