"Sitting is the new smoking." It's a popular phrase that permeates office walls and the pages of health magazines. And, while it might sound a little dramatic, the expert consensus seems to confirm that too much chair time isn’t doing our health any favors. Prolonged periods of sitting have been linked to everything from run-of-the-mill pain, soreness and stiffness to increased risk of obesity, disease and even premature death.
“Sitting is also directly related to lower back pain and bad posture,” warns Dr. David Kauffman, a chiropractic physician with Kauffman Chiropractic. “Poor posture can increase the risk of degenerative changes in the joints of the body, alter balance and impact the function of the heart and lungs.”
According to a study of American adults, one in four people spends more than eight hours per day in a seated position. If you’re in that category, the best way to reduce your risk is simple: get vertical and incorporate more movement into your day.
On Your Feet
- Make things a little less convenient. “Instead of having everything right by your bed at home or by your desk at work, charge your phone across the room or move the Keurig to the break room instead of [keeping it] at your desk,” suggests Amanda Webster, a mind-body wellness coach.
- Go beyond standing desks. They’re all the rage these days, but standing desks aren’t the only alternative to sitting at work. Webster recommends asking your supervisor for a treadmill desk or bike desk, which have a tray for your laptop or tablet so you can briskly walk or cycle while working.
- Select some movement triggers. “Work with your brain’s natural cue-routine-reward cycle,” Webster suggests. “Select a few things that happen regularly in your day, such as getting an email, to serve as cues to move.” For example, every time you get an email, you might stand up and do a few stretches. “This will release serotonin and dopamine ([also known as] the feel-good chemicals),” she explains.
- Get a four-legged fitness companion. “Studies show that having a dog increases your daily steps by [almost] 3,000,” notes fitness and nutrition coach Alexandra Davis. Consider adopting a dog or, if that’s not an option, offer to walk a neighbor’s dog or call a shelter to see if they're looking for volunteers.
- Follow the 55/5 rule. Lynell Ross, a certified personal trainer and founder and managing editor of Zivadream, suggests making a commitment to stand up for five minutes out of every 55 minutes of seated time.
- Make it a family affair. Instead of watching TV, eating at a restaurant or going to the movies, look for family activities that don’t involve sitting. Ross' ideas include activities like hiking, biking, walking, bowling, basketball, soccer or walking to enjoy a picnic.
- Banish seated meetings. Most meetings are held in conference rooms, coffee shops or other venues where participants tend to sit. Webster suggests shifting meetings to local parks or trails, where groups can walk while they talk.
- Set a movement timer. Jason Karp, chief running officer at Run-Fit & REVO₂LUTION RUNNING, recommends setting a timer at your office desk to ring every 15 minutes. “Every time you hear the ring, stand up from your chair and do 20 squats (or another exercise),” he explains. “Your brain will eventually associate the ring with the activity, and you’ll do it automatically.”
- Turn kids’ sports into mini workouts. “Instead of just sitting in the bleachers through your kids’ games, walk around the track before the games start, at half-time or while waiting for them to finish practice,” suggests Ross.
As you look to incorporate these ideas into your routine, remember to walk before you run. According to David, when transitioning to a mostly sit-free day, it’s safer to do it gradually. “Injuries occur when people move entirely to a standing desk for eight hours a day,” she points out. “Even when you start small, the benefits of moving and standing will compound to increase your health and longevity.”