The research is clear: excessive sitting is life-threatening. Extended periods of sitting increase your chances of several types of cancer, type 2 diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and back and neck problems. New research out of the American Heart Association's Circulation Journal should create some encouragement to create some healthy habits.
The AHA study took a look at 11,000 middle-aged Americans over time. They found that those who did 30 minutes of walking 4 times per week had a significantly lower risk of heart failure. Heart failure is not sudden. It is marked by a long-term deterioration of the heart's ability to pump blood. Adults who were not physically active were linked to an increased risk of serious heart issues. Heart failure is becoming more common as we live longer lives. There aren't very many tools we have to prevent it, so this study is encouraging.
So what are recommended activity levels? For adults, it is at least 75 minutes of vigorous exercise or 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week. Our recommendation is to find something that you enjoy doing so that you will keep doing it. For example, if you like basketball, join a league so that you will be playing several times per week. If you don't like using a treadmill, you'll often be looking at how much time you have left in your workout, and you'll be less likely to stick with your workouts. But if you enjoy basketball, you'll look forward to playing. If you're competitive, you may want to play more so you can do better. Working out will be less of a chore and more of a passion.
Many people find that it's helpful to find someone to exercise with or you could join a group. One of the reasons this is helpful is because there will be days that you don't feel like exercising. But if you like the people in your group, you're more likely to keep showing up. And if you have a workout partner, you won't want to let your partner down by canceling.
Dr. Karen Barney, Professor and Chair Emerita of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy at Saint Louis University explains, "Even with limited available time, identifying a physical activity that is meaningful to you will assist in supporting your health. Fit this into your schedule around other demands in your life and make this a regular part of your fitness routine. This could be early morning, midday, evening, or whatever works with your schedule."
Don't beat yourself up if you aren't always hitting your exercise goals. In this study, fewer than 50% of people were active at recommended levels.
On the flip side, many people who incorporate more movement into their daily life report higher energy levels, increased productivity, and a better mood. Additionally, many lose weight.
The standing desk movement was started by Dr. James Levine at the Mayo Clinic. It began because he was trying to figure out why some of the participants in his weight loss study in 1999 were losing weight and others weren't.
In 2005 he began using motion-tracking underwear on his participants to see how much they were moving. He concluded that the participants who hadn't lost weight were sitting, on average, 2 hours more per day than the participants who lost weight.
1. Get a standing desk
There are several variations of standing desks:
- adjustable-height standing desks
- treadmill desk
- bike desk
- desktop converter that you place on top of your existing desk
All of these are great options for adding more movement to your day. And if you're using a standing desk, here are some tips to add even more movement:
- Keep changing positions. Rest your leg on your chair or an overturned garbage can to stretch, squat, do yoga, dance; any movement is good for you.
- Standing on a shiatsu mat, a golf or tennis ball can also be helpful as they stimulate nerves and relax sore muscles in your feet.
- Switch from sitting to standing throughout the day, with the goal to eventually stand for half of your workday. You may find it helpful to set an alarm on your computer, phone, tablet, to move around. This could be to switch from sitting to standing at your desk, to get a water break, to stretch, etc.
- There are apps you can install on your phone or desktop that can remind you to get up and take a break at regular intervals.
If you get a treadmill desk or bike desk, you'll need a regular sitting or standing desk as well (you can't walk or ride all day). The idea is to keep moving, so you don't need to run or bike fast. A very slow pace will keep your metabolism up and should prevent you from sweating (depending on the temperature of your office).
2. Do more calf raises
Calf raises (lifting your heels off the ground) are one of the easiest exercises to do anywhere. You can do them standing at your desk, waiting in line, cooking, brushing your teeth, or standing in an elevator. It's not that you can't do squats or lunges anywhere, but they call attention to you, require a little bit more space, and are more difficult to do while working.
3. Park further from the entrance at work or any destination
Like most people, you may have a habit of parking as close as possible to the entrance. If you don't have any physical limitations that make walking difficult, park further away. And if you take public transportation to work, school, or anywhere you're going, get off one stop further from your stop.
4. Stand up or walk for all phone calls
You may find that you do certain activities better sitting and others standing, but talking on the phone is a great time to stand or walk.
According to a study by the University of Utah School of Medicine, walking even 2 minutes every hour may offset the dangers of extended periods of sitting.
5. Have walking meetings
Some people find that they're able to think more clearly while walking vs sitting. If possible, have your walking meetings outside.
6. Exercise before, during a lunch break, or after work
Many people who start using standing desks and incorporate more movement into their work days have found that they have more of a desire to exercise since they started standing. For many people standing elevates their mood, as well as keeping their metabolism up, making it easier to keep moving all day.
The American Cancer Society highly advises adults to do moderate intensity activities for a minimum of 2.5 hours per week, or vigorous intensity activities for at least an hour and 15 minutes every week.
One minor change that you can make is stand up when you are watching your favorite TV show or when you are folding the laundry.
7. Walk every day after lunch
Some find that their digestion is better and they feel better when they adopt this habit. It can also be a great way to spend more time with your spouse, kids, and friends without the distractions of TVs and cell phones. And if you have back issues, walking can also do wonders for your back.
8. Stretch or do light working out while watching TV
Many people turn on the TV when they get home, hit the couch or recliner and don't move much until it's time to go to bed. According to another study in the British Journal of Cancer, "Prolonged sitting while watching TV was significantly associated with increased risk of colorectal adenoma, and adjusting for physical activity or a potential mediator body mass index did not change the estimates." Colorectal adenoma is a benign glandular tumor of the colon and the rectum and a precursor of colon cancer.
9. Reduce couch time
Couches are designed for comfort, so once you find a comfortable spot, you'll probably settle in for a while. If you sit on the floor, you'll be shifting a lot. When you keep moving like this, you'll often find yourself reaching for the foam roller, a lacrosse ball, exercise bands, or a physioball.
And if your couch is old, or doesn't support good posture, don't lie on it. Keeping your back in good shape means keeping your ear, shoulder, and hip in a straight line. When you lie on a couch, your body is often out of alignment in all three areas.
10. Take some kind of break every commercial
Grab water, stretch, start laundry, or find any excuse to get yourself up every commercial break, or every other one (at least every 20 minutes).
11. Drink lots of water to increase bathroom breaks
And walk to a bathroom that's further away. If possible, walk to a bathroom on a floor above or below you, and use the stairs. And don't replace water with any sugar-filled or high-calorie drinks.
12. Carry groceries
13. Use a grip strengthener
You can use this one hand while stopped at a red light while driving, talking on the phone, reading, or watching tv. They don't require much concentration or use much space.
14. Take a walk while waiting for your doctor's appointment
Doctors almost always make their patients wait, so why not ask the receptionist how long it will take. If they anticipate a 15-minute wait, go for a 10-minute walk.
15. Stand or exercise while folding laundry or talking on the phone
Most of the things you can do while at your standing desk can be done while doing these activities.
16. If you're a gamer, start using a Wii or other games that involve movement in order to play
Video games can be addictive, and users can spend many hours sitting. When not playing Wii, make a habit of getting up and moving around between games.
17. Do outside chores yourself
If you pay someone or delegate raking leaves, mowing the lawn, washing your car, shoveling snow, pulling weeds, or any other outdoor chore, do it yourself (at least the activities that you don't mind). Just be careful to keep good form while you're working, not breaking a cardinal rule: don't reach, bend, and twist at the same time. It's a great way to put a lot of strain on your back, and even herniate a disc.
18. Pack things to exercise with when you travel
Bring tennis shoes, workout clothes, and/or exercise bands, workout DVDs, a swimsuit, or anything else that you can bring easily on a work trip or vacation.
19. Avoid moving walkways at airports
If you're not in a hurry, walk around the moving walkways.
20. Don't use elevators
If you're staying at a hotel, request to be on a floor that's not so high that you'll avoid walking the stairs. If you're moving to an apartment that has many levels, find a place that you can get in the habit of walking up the stairs to.
21. Use a foam roller, tennis ball, or lacrosse ball
These tools can get rid of tension in many different places in your body, especially in the legs and back. There are many shapes and sizes of foam rollers to choose from depending on the intensity you are looking for and the body parts you are targeting.
22. Stop using drive-throughs
Driving is one of the more difficult times to add mobility. The general rule is to move around every 20 minutes, so if your regular destinations are more than 20 minutes away, breaking up the drive with a little bit of movement can make a big difference in your health.
Dancing is a really healthy activity that can be done while cleaning your house, it can be part of your exercise routine, and it can be part of your social routine.
Instead of going out to eat or watch a movie, go dancing. And it doesn't have to be club dancing. Find a dance that you like, and a type of music that you like, and go for it. If you don't know a lot about salsa, bachata, west coast swing, Irish dance, or bhangra, go try a class!
24. Use a Fitness Tracker
According to the National Institutes of Health, "Continuous self-monitoring from wearable technology with real-time feedback may be particularly useful to enhance lifestyle changes that promote weight loss in sedentary overweight or obese adults. This strategy, combined with a group-based behavioral intervention, may yield optimal weight loss."
You may have heard the Peter Drucker quote, "What gets measured gets managed," or "What gets managed gets done." Having a Fitbit or other wearable technology that measures your calories burned, steps taken, or any other measure of your activity influences your subconscious and conscious mind to move more.