Not all that long ago, I was wrapping up a busy workday at home where I had more or less been glued to the screen for eight hours. When I stood up, I felt a sharp pain in my mid-back. Although it caught me by surprise, it shouldn’t have; I’d been sitting all day and my back was paying the price.
My experience isn’t unique; sedentary lifestyles are the norm in North America. Unfortunately, the risks of sitting extend beyond the odd kink in your back. Humans were designed to get more activity in life, and sedentary behavior is not doing our health any favors. It left me wondering how to reduce the effects of sitting all day.
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The National Health Crisis of Too Much Sitting
It probably doesn’t surprise you that a sedentary lifestyle can be dangerous to your health. A 2019 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that more than a quarter of adults sit for more than 8 hours a day.
And according to Harvard Health Publishing, extended periods of sitting can lead to serious health problems such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, deep vein thrombosis, and early death.
In addition to these health risks, sitting for long periods of time can also lead to back pain, neck pain, and other health problems. The effects are especially troublesome for middle-aged and older adults.
But don’t worry – there are plenty of ways to lessen the effects of sitting all day. Here are seven simple strategies that will help you get moving and save your health.
Get Up and Move Every Half Hour to an Hour
It’s important to move every hour, even if it’s just for a few minutes. When you spend the day sitting, your muscles get stiff and your body becomes stagnant. Moving every hour will help prevent muscle pain and get your blood flowing.
Remembering to move can be a pain though, especially when you’re deep in the flow state at work! Here are some tips I use to remember to get moving:
Set a timer to remind you to move every hour.
Many people like to set an alert on their phones. Fitness trackers like FitBits and the Apple Watch are great because they prompt you to get up off your duff automatically.
How long should the break last? A few minutes of stretching can be enough to keep your body from feeling stiff and tight. However, if you have the time, aim for at least five minutes.
Make a schedule and stick to it.
If you’re working in an office, make a daily routine of going for walking breaks at the same times every day. Not only does this help to break up your workday, but it will also ensure that you’re moving throughout the day.
Get up and walk around when you’re on the phone
Time to stop slouching in your chair when you’re on a call. Instead, take the call on your mobile and walk around the office as you talk. Or if you’re bound to an office phone, simply getting up during calls can still help get the circulation going and give you a chance to stretch your legs.
Walk on Your Lunch Break
It may be tempting to eat lunch relaxing in the break room (or on your couch if you work from home). However, lunchtime is a great opportunity to get some movement into your day.
People underestimate the power of walking for physical activity, but it’s a fantastic way to improve blood flow and loosen up your muscles. Even short walks can be great for your health, helping to regulate your blood pressure, increase your energy expenditure, and reduce your risk of a heart attack.
In addition, it’s a good way to clear your head and take a break from work. I find I’m always more focused and less drowsy after a short walk at lunchtime!
Here are a few tips for maximizing your noontime jaunt.
Walk in a park or nature reserve
If the weather is nice, walk in a park or nature reserve on your lunch break. “Green exercise” is a thing and can improve mood, focus, and overall health.
Walk with co-workers
Taking a walk with your co-workers is another great way to increase social interactions while getting some fresh air. You can also go for walking meetings with your coworkers to brainstorm ideas instead of sitting in a stuffy board room.
Bring walking shoes to work
Bring your sneakers to work and put them on before you head out for lunch. Seeing them under your desk will remind you to pull them on and go out! It’s also important to have proper footwear to support your feet during your walks – ballerina flats are not going to cut it!
Reduce Sitting Time by Investing in a Standing Desk
A rising desk is an excellent way to reduce the effects of sitting all day. Being on your feet can burn an extra 8-10 calories per hour. Admittedly, it’s not a lot, but if you stand on and off throughout the day it can add up!
Here are some tips for using a standing desk during work.
Find the proper height & distance
It’s important to find a desk that is adjustable in height. Ideally, the surface should be level with your elbows while you’re in a standing position. If you need to, get a mount for your desk so that the computer screen is at eye level.
Use proper posture
When you’re using this kind of desk, it’s important to maintain good posture. Simply standing with a hunched back doesn’t help you, and it can cause you to feel tense and uncomfortable after a while.
Instead, keep your head back and your shoulders back and down. There should be an “S” shape to your spine. Check it out in a mirror if you need to!
Alternate between sitting and standing
If you’re using a standing desk, it’s important to alternate between sitting and standing. It may take some time to get used to working at a desk while on your feet, so you’ll want to give your body time to adjust.
Also, being on your feet all day can also be stressful on your body, so alternating helps maintain mobility and prevent injuries.
Get an anti-fatigue mat to stand on
If you stand for long periods of time, your feet and legs can get tired. It’s a good idea to have an anti-fatigue mat to stand on. It will help reduce pain and discomfort in your legs, while also reducing the chance that you’ll develop blood clots or varicose veins.
Try a treadmill desk
If you want to take it to the next level, you can invest in a treadmill desk so you can walk while you work. You can also get portable treadmills that fit under your standing desk, or desk attachments that you can put on your regular treadmill.
A treadmill is a great investment if you don’t have time for a lunchtime walk and want to burn more calories while you work.
Sit on a Stability Ball
A stability ball has many benefits for your back and your core muscles. However, it may take some time to get used to sitting on a ball. For the best results, do some abs while you sit.
Here are some tips for using a stability ball while at work.
Get used to sitting on a stability ball while working
It’s important to get used to sitting on a stability ball before you start trying to do work. If the ball is too hard, your back may hurt and it will be uncomfortable for you to sit on. To start, sit on the ball for 10-15 minutes and swap either between your elevated desk or an ergonomic chair.
Alternate between sitting and standing
If possible, stand up everyone once in a while after using a stability ball. Doing so will give your core muscles a break and help with mobility.
Engage your core while sitting
Sit on the ball and engage your core. Do some basic exercises while you sit to help improve your core strength, posture, and flexibility. Improving core strength will help stabilize your back muscles and prevent back pain.
Get the right size stability ball
Make sure you get the right size stability ball for your height. A ball that is too large or too small can cause discomfort and pain in your lower back, so it’s important to find a balance.
Get a Compact Elliptical
While an elliptical machine is often used as a form of cardio exercise, did you know that you can also use it to help improve your productivity while working? Known as “active sitting”, an under-desk elliptical is a great way to get in a quick workout while you’re at work.
Using an under-desk elliptical can help increase your productivity while working. The motion of pedaling helps keep your mind focused and helps you stay productive throughout the day. Pedaling on an elliptical machine also helps improve circulation, which can help reduce the risk of developing heart disease, blood clots, or varicose veins. It can even aid in weight loss.
You can also use these little units at home while watching television or reading a book! Here are a few of the tips for using an under-desk elliptical.
Pedal at an easy to moderate pace
For the best results, make sure you are pedaling at an easy to moderate pace. You want to make sure you are pedaling quickly enough to make the elliptical machine move, but not so quickly that it is difficult or distracts you from work.
Start with 10-15 minute intervals
It’s important to start with intervals of 10 or 15 minutes, and gradually build up your endurance. Doing so will prevent you from feeling uncomfortable and out of breath while working.
Over time, you can increase the length of your workday on the elliptical if desired. If you do plan to use a compact elliptical for extended periods of time, make sure you check in with your doctor first to talk about potential risks and preventative measures.
Get a unit that’s low to the ground
Make sure you keep an eye on the height of your desk while you are using the elliptical. Get a unit that is low to the ground so your knees aren’t hitting the desk as you pedal. (My favorite is the Cubii JR! You can read my full review here.)
Make Time for Regular Exercise
Experts recommend aiming for 40 minutes of moderately intense physical activity every day to combat the effects of a sedentary job. But even if you can’t fit in an intense sweat session every day, it’s still important to make time for regular physical activity.
Here are some quick tips that will help reduce excessive sitting and incorporate physical activity into your day without requiring a lot of extra time.
Set realistic goals
Start slowly and set a goal to exercise for 10-15 minutes a day. Once you meet your goals, increase the length of time you spend exercising or work on increasing the intensity of your workouts.
Pick activities you enjoy
The greatest way to stick with an exercise routine is by choosing an activity that you actually enjoy. Enjoying what you’re doing will not only make it more fun, but you’ll also be able to do it longer.
Make small changes every day
Try parking further away from work so you have a longer walk, or take the stairs instead of an elevator. Even taking a quick break at work for a short five workout is infinitely better than no workout!
The key to being successful with an exercise routine is to make sustainable changes to your routine. My program, Serial Starter Fix, is a great place to start if you need to ease into exercise! It requires no equipment and you can do it at the office or at home.
Yoga is a great way to improve your flexibility, strength, and mobility. If you’ve been wanting to give yoga a shot, but haven’t found the time or don’t know where to start, here are some tips that will help.
Focus on restorative types of yoga
While there are many types of yoga, not all of them are created equal. When you’re starting out with the goal of combating a sedentary lifestyle, it’s best to focus on restorative yoga. For example, Yin yoga focuses more on breathing and deep stretching to release tension and improve mobility in the joints.
Start with beginner poses
For the best results when you’re first starting out, stick to beginner poses. Not only are they safer, but you’ll be able to work on alignment without straining muscles or getting your heart rate up too high.
Research suggests that prolonged sitting can lead to a number of negative consequences such as obesity, heart disease, or diabetes. And if you’re an older adult with high blood pressure and are mostly sedentary, your health risks are even greater.
Fortunately, now you know how to reduce the effects of sitting all day, even if you have a desk job.
From compact ellipticals to yoga, these strategies can help you reduce sedentary periods and get you moving throughout the day. Start with one or two tips and gradually add more until you find the routine that works best for you.
Stay active and you’ll be optimizing your chances of living a long healthy life!
Anything more than eight hours can be considered too much sitting. However, those who for more than 12 hours a day and go more than a half hour or longer without getting up to move are at higher risk for health issues and premature death.
When you spend a lot of time sitting every day, such as when you work in an office, your body doesn’t need to use much energy. Your heart rate slows down and your muscles start to become inactive. This can lead to health conditions such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. It can also decrease mobility and cause back and joint pain.
There are a number of options that can help you reduce the effects sitting all day has on your health. The easiest way to get up and move is to set an hour aside for exercise every day, but there are other tips you can follow too without requiring much more time or effort.
I have an entire post about the best under-desk bikes and ellipticals that you can find here.