Get on Up!
How to undo the risks of extended daily sitting
Ten hours a day. That’s how much time the average American spends sitting every day. Between working at a desk, driving, watching television, and eating, the hours add up. What also adds up is the increased risk of developing serious health issues, including: Heart disease; High blood pressure; Diabetes; Obesity; Osteoporosis; Cancer; Back issues; Dementia; Depression; Muscle degeneration; and Leg clots.
However, cancelling out some of those ill effects is probably easier than you think. According to a study out of Columbia University, breaking up each half-hour of sitting with a light, five-minute walk significantly reduces blood pressure and lowers blood sugar levels throughout the day. One easy way to ensure you don’t sit too long is to set a timer on your phone or FitBit-like device to remind you to stand up and move every 30 minutes.
If taking a five-minute walk every 30 minutes isn’t practical for your work setting, there are other things you can do to get your heart pumping and body moving throughout the day. For example:
- Stand while talking on the phone or watching television
- When possible, arrange walking meetings with colleagues
- If you work at a desk, consider getting a standing desk or using a high counter or surface from which to work
- If you must sit, use a medicine ball instead of a chair which engages core muscles
- When possible, take the stairs instead of the elevator. Even getting off one—or two—floors early and taking the stairs the rest of the way will give your body a boost.
- Instead of sending an email to a coworker, take a walk to their desk
- If you need to use the restroom or get water, walk to the location furthest from your desk
- Use your lunch hour to take a walk around the building and/or walk to wherever you’re picking up food
- If you find yourself waiting for anything—a meeting, a microwave, or copier—resist the temptation to sit and stay standing
It’s important to note that prolonged sitting is harmful even to those who manage regular daily workouts.
In addition to being good for your physical health, adding more movement to your day is good for your mental health. Regular movement has been shown to reduce feelings of fatigue and improve mood.
Undoing the harm of sitting isn’t difficult but it does take some concerted effort. If moving every 30 minutes seems unrealistic, add whatever movement you can, when you can. Every bit moves you closer to a healthier, happier you.
Dr. Richard Wiseman is a board-certified primary care physician at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center Internal Medicine in Bennington, VT.