These days, there are lots of reasons to sit. Video games, television and social media keep us on the couch. Work keeps us at a desk all day. Stress and mental exhaustion keep us seated after work.
Many studies are now being done on the health effects of a sedentary lifestyle, and health experts are saying even exercising enough does not counteract the negative effects of sitting too much.
While not everyone agrees on exactly what effect sitting has on your health, most agree that more activity leads to better health. Stephen Blair, a professor and health researcher who is now famous for his work, believes that “physical inactivity is probably the biggest public health problem we have in this country.” And many people agree with him. If you don’t believe me, go to Google and search for “sitting is the new smoking.”
The CDC’s website has some statistics on the health issues that could be prevented by regular physical activity, including coronary heart disease, heart attacks, adult-onset diabetes, colon cancer, hip fractures, high blood pressure, and obesity. According to the CDC, 25 percent of American adults do not lead active lifestyles.
The American Heart Association reported in January that sedentary jobs have increased 83 percent since 1950. This makes it harder than ever to be active. Luckily, there are ways to be active and keep your day job. Depending on your work environment, you might be able to make significant changes to your work habits to improve your life.
Get a standing desk. Although standing doesn’t necessarily equate to more activity, it’s good to have a mixture of standing and sitting so the muscles stay active. If you want to do more, you could even invest in a treadmill or biking desk. There is even a device called DeskCycle ($150) that fits under a desk and can be used for pedaling while working throughout the day.
Sit on an exercise ball instead of a chair. This will decrease the amount of time your muscles are doing absolutely nothing. An exercise ball requires you to balance, keeping your core active and your blood flowing.
Fidget. Many sites that offer tips for being more active at work say that fidgeting throughout the day will burn calories. Although it doesn’t seem that fidgeting would be a replacement for getting up and walking around, it couldn’t hurt to get a little more movement in your day. Periodic stretching is also good.
Invest in a pedometer. There’s no excuse these days not to own a pedometer. They can be bought for as little as $2, and can be quite stylish if you’re willing to pay a little more. Most smartphones now have apps that will track your activity as well, if not give you an exact step count. Create a daily step goal and find ways to take more steps, perhaps on periodic breaks or over lunch. Most health experts recommend 30 minutes of walking or equivalent activity per day, so find out how many steps you can take in that period and make that your initial goal.
Deskercise. Health and fitness site Greatist.com published 33 “deskercises” last year, or exercises that can be done at a desk. Tap your toes under your desk. While waiting for the printer, do calf raises by standing on your tiptoes and then coming back down. While sitting down, work your thighs by placing an object between them and squeezing them together for a few seconds, then releasing. Improve your flexibility by raising one leg under your desk and holding for a few seconds, then releasing. Since most any exercise can be done in a cubicle (running in place, air jump rope, body weight squats), I’ve only included the exercises that can be done without anyone noticing.
Track your results. It’s good to get a realistic image of how much you actually do in a given period, so you know where to make improvements. There are many smartphone apps for tracking personal fitness habits. For those who don’t have access to apps, the American Heart Association has an activity tracker online. For businesses, the Wellness Council of America has a free checklist to determine how an organization can better help its employees live healthier lives. The checklist can be found here.