You may have heard that sitting has become the new bacon when it comes to health. While I’m not a fan of such alarmist headlines, there is growing evidence prolonged sitting can have negative health effects even for people who are considered active or of normal body weight.
SITTING & HEALTH: THE FACTS
- 4 or more total hours of daily sitting has been associated with muscular imbalances that can lead to chronic pain (such as low-back pain) and higher risk for life-threatening diseases.
- Regular exercise, even when done at vigorous intensities, does not appear to completely counteract the damage done by prolonged, uninterrupted sitting. And, exercise done in a seated position (such as rowing and recumbent cycling) exacerbates the muscular imbalances caused by sitting during sedentary activities.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Be honest with yourself about how much sitting you do. Don’t count only desk time at work. Consider your commute, whether it’s spent seated in a car or on public transportation. Add to that the average amount of time you spend seated watching TV, streaming video, gaming or at a computer each night at home.
If you’re well above four total hours of sitting daily, it’s time to institute some changes. It’s okay if your job doesn’t permit you to leave your desk, standing at your desk is infinitely better than sitting at your desk.
- Set alarms to get up regularly: Studies have shown that uninterrupted prolonged sitting is worse than sitting that’s interspersed with movement. Meaning, it’s better to get up from your desk and walk (or stand) for ten minutes every hour than walk (or stand) for twenty minutes every two hours. But, getting up out of the chair is always better than not. So, do it as often as you can. Setting alarms will ensure you won’t get distracted and forget.
- Inject standing or movement into activities you normally do seated: Get a standing or convertible desk; speak to a colleague in person rather than send an email; conduct walking meetings (this is especially productive for creative or brainstorming meetings); fold laundry standing at a counter or table; stand while you engage with social media or speak on the phone; for every 60-90 minutes of watching TV or streaming video, spend 20-30 minutes of that time doing stretches or simple body-weight exercises (planks, push-ups, squats, lunges) or intervals of light cardio in place (jump jacks, high-knee marches, kick-boxing style punches and kicks).
- Choose exercise that counteracts the effects of sitting: Walking, jogging, running, swimming, yoga and Pilates all incorporate what I call counter-sitting movement. If your preferred form of exercise isn’t listed here, don’t give it up and don’t despair. Any form of exercise is better than none. But, consider balancing out your seated workouts with one or more workouts per week including these counter-sitting forms of exercise.
Your lifestyle doesn’t have to be the equivalent of eating bacon for breakfast every day. A few new, easy-to-adopt habits is all that’s needed to reduce your daily sit time and improve your health.