For years, we’ve heard it: A sedentary lifestyle is a ticking health time-bomb. But recent studies have revealed that it’s not just the “couch potatoes” who are suffering from the effects of too much sitting. Hundreds of thousands of productive, active people are spending many more hours seated than they did a decade or two ago. The consequences for their (hint: should that be YOUR?) health are devastating.
How are we racking up all this seat time? Commuting to work, spending leisure time using electronic devices, depending on computers for more and more tasks…these all add up to far too many waking hours with our bodies in a relatively fixed position.
The effects of the seated lifestyle are so serious that some health experts have dubbed sitting “the new smoking.” Too much chair time can lead to everything from temporary stiffness to long-term or even life-threatening conditions including diabetes, unstable blood sugar levels, negative HDL/LDL cholesterol ratios, back pain, decreased bone density, blood pressure irregularities, depression, and heart disease.
That’s not all. For women in particular, keeping your seat is bad news. One recent study suggests that women who spend at six or more hours a day sitting (that’s less than the typical workday!) run a far greater lifetime risk for breast and ovarian cancers and multiple myeloma. This was true even among otherwise healthy women who didn’t have the added risk factor of overweight. And speaking of excess pounds—as we know too well, they are yet another consequence of too little movement.
Fortunately, you can do a lot today to begin to “unseat” your life.
- Pay attention to the clock.
Regardless whether you’re sitting at work or enjoying some leisure activity, make it a habit to move regularly. After 30-50 minutes (maximum!) of seat time, get up for 5 minutes to grab yourself a glass of water, touch your toes, step out to “powder your nose”—or simply stand and stretch.
When you’re caught up in activity, losing track of time can be easy. Look for alarm or timer apps for your computer or cell phone (Time Out, for example) that will remind you when each sit-down period is over.
Want to go a step further? Incorporate a few 10-minute walking breaks into each work day. A few minutes spent with a change of scenery and a little mild physical activity won’t just help negate the effects of sitting—it can also refresh your mental clarity, keep stress in check, and relieve the neck and shoulder muscle tension that so often comes with “computer posture.”
- Take phone calls standing up.
When the phone rings, stand up to answer—and don’t sit again until after you’ve hung up. Seriously!
The practice may sound strange at first, but you may be surprised to discover just how much seat-time this strategy can save. And there’s no reason to stop there: When a call goes longer than expected, add a few calf stretches or wall squats for a mind-clearing, energizing mini-workout right during your workday. Bonus: This is a little trick you can easily apply to personal calls, too!
- Rearrange your space.
Is your office set up for maximum efficiency? Can you do pretty much anything you need to without moving out of one chair-width space? This arrangement may look like a model of productivity on paper, but it’s not good for your wellness to be so constantly still for a full workday.
Perhaps you can tweak your space in a way that will encourage more moving around. For example, you can move the printer to the opposite side of the room from your computer monitor. The physical and time demands of, say, retrieving a reference material from a shelf a few steps away aren’t much, but the cumulative value of dozens of those little movements—each one a break from the complete stillness that’s so dangerous—can have a big impact.
- Consider a standing desk.
Perhaps like many modern professionals, your job requires a lot of computer work, reference research, or paperwork shuffling that keeps you tethered to a horizontal surface for long periods of time. Of course, I wouldn’t dream of suggesting you leave your data—much less your job!—behind. But I do hope you will seriously think about ditching the standard “sit-down” office desk and replacing it with a standing or walking model.
This step may sound drastic, but for the woman who spends the majority of her working hours at a computer, a standing desk could also be the single most important investment she can make in her health—right there at her workplace. In fact, clients have recently shared with me pictures of their standing desks with messages such as “This has changed my life!” The difference truly is that dramatic.
After just a few weeks with your new less-sitting routine, you’ll enjoy greater endurance and resiliency, improved posture, and a stronger, trimmer body tuned to reach out and grab the opportunities and adventures that come with an energetic, graceful life—benefits that extend far beyond the office! Need a little help figuring out how to add these valuable “perks” to your work plan? Please call me at 212-686-0939. I would be honored to guide you toward your goals!