Putting a Stop to Prolonged Sitting

In case you’ve been living (or sitting) under a rock lately, you’ve probably seen the onslaught of articles about how terrible sitting is for our health.

Here are the highlights:

  • Sedentary time is associated with an increased risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality; the strength of the association is most consistent for diabetes. (Source: Diebetologia)
  • In a 2012 study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, researchers reported that people spent an average of 64 hours a week sitting, 28 hours standing, and 11 hours milling about (non-exercise walking), whether or not they exercised the recommended 150 minutes a week. That’s more than nine hours a day of sitting, no matter how active they otherwise were. (Source: Runner’s World)
  • Past studies have found that the more hours that people spend sitting, the more likely they are to develop diabetes, heart disease and other conditions, and potentially to die prematurely — even if they exercise regularly. (Source: The New York Times Well Blog)

So, we get it, sitting is bad for you. Well, so is soda, but here’s the difference:

  • There are tons of articles saying soda (both regular and diet) is bad for you. Solution? Don’t drink soda. It’s pretty easy. Well, it may not actually be easy to nix the soda, but the solution minimizing the health risk is extremely clear.
  • Every week there’s a new article from a major news source saying how bad sitting is for you, but many of these articles don’t pose any solutions for how to fix the problem. And as we’ve read in the articles, making up for sitting time with exercise doesn’t outweigh its negative effects, so that leaves us no more informed than telling us about the problem in the first place.


The Counter Argument

Some might react to this fact and say, “that’s not true, get a standing desk or a treadmill desk,” but I have to argue that isn’t the best solution we can offer up. I say this because many employers don’t provide any funding toward employee wellness outside of healthcare coverage (if that), and you expect them to fund a mass order of standing or treadmill desks that would cost anywhere from $350 to $2,000 a piece for all of their employees?

I hate to be pessimistic, but we can’t put all of our hope in to that solution. Some companies are awesome and will realize this return on investment, but many companies just simply aren’t that caring.

Not to mention, standing for 8-plus hours a day also comes with some negative health effects, but that topic is for another day.

So the question remains, what can we do to prevent being so sedentary when the majority of workplaces enable the sitting environment?

Luckily, research has also shown that although three hours of sitting resulted in a significant impairment in blood flow in the legs, when light activity breaks were introduced hourly during sitting, the decline in blood flow through the legs was prevented. (Source: National Center for Biotechnology Information)

Therefore, to combat the negative effects of prolonged periods of sitting, we don’t necessarily need to stand all day, we just need to consciously take “movement breaks.”

Here are some tips on how to realistically introduce more movement in to your day in the hopes of preventing the damage sitting causes:

  • Set a timer on your computer or on your phone to chime every hour. When the chime goes off wrap up your current task and then go for a five minute walk. If you’re in the middle of something where you can’t take a break, make a note to walk for 10 minutes on the next chime. If you’re someone who doesn’t like to aimlessly walk, go to fill up your water bottle, this will also helps you with staying hydrated!
  • Make “movement habits.” For example, after working on a task that has left you sitting for an hour or more, get up and check your emails while standing. I do three bigger email checks during the day (one in the first hour of work, one right before my lunch break and one about an hour before being done), which has not only proven itself beneficial productivity-wise, but taking my phone and either pacing near my workspace, or going in to the kitchen and standing at a counter to read and answer quick emails takes anywhere from five to 10 minutes and provides three breaks throughout the day.
  • Whenever you’re on a phone call get up and pace or stand in your office.
  • Every time you have to use the restroom, don’t go to the one closest to your office. Go to the one that’s up or down on the next floor, or one that’s on the opposite side of the building if you’re in a one-floor building. Anything that will make you walk a little further.
  • If you have the ability to move your workstation and work on a lap top, move to an area in your office where you can set your computer down at a height that allows you to work while standing up. The bar countertop in my workspace allows me to type comfortably while working, so whenever I have a task that will take me an hour or two, I’ll go to the kitchen bar top so I can get in some standing time.
  • If you live in a bigger city and take public transportation to work, like the subway or a city bus, don’t take a seat, stand up. Or at least stand up for the last few stops of your ride. If you drive to work, don’t go for the closest parking spot, start your day with a longer walk and end it with one to break up sit time.
  • I can’t tell you how many minutes of my day are spent brainstorming, drafting or coming up with preliminary plans aka times where I’m doing work that requires no computer. These are things I don’t need to do sitting at my desk. Get up, pace in your office, walk the perimeter of your office building, etc.


Now while these tips are in no way revolutionary, I think the common thought is that this type of movement seems too insignificant to really combat the negative effects of sitting all day.

The truth is although this type of movement isn’t going to help you lose weight or get fit during your work day (you still need to be exercising and getting your heart rate up), incorporating these movement breaks all throughout your day will give you a surprising amount of time where you’re not sitting. Give it a try. Take on two of these tips and once they become second nature after a couple weeks, introduce a few more.

Before you know it you’ll feel naturally inclined to make smarter movement decisions when the opportunity presents itself and you’ll be getting your blood to flow through your legs every hour while at work.

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Elle Michels

Elle Michels

Based in Washington, D.C., Elle Michels is a contributing writer to Womenshealth.com.

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