When you think about something that might have a harmful effect on your health, you probably don’t think about the chair you sit on for work – but maybe you should. Even before COVID-19, Americans didn’t get enough physical activity, but the pandemic has made things worse. Most of us are getting outside less, watching TV more, skipping the gym, and spending countless hours in front of the computer on Zoom meetings. That means we’re all sitting way too much – and it’s not good for our bodies or minds.
So, how much sitting is too much? If you sit more than eight hours a day with no physical activity, the risk of dying is similar to the risks of dying from obesity or smoking. The average person spends 12 hours sitting per day. According to the World Health Organization, the fourth leading factor for global mortality is physical inactivity. And 3.2 million deaths a year are related to physical inactivity.
In the short term, too much sitting can lead to anxiety and depression, poor posture, weakened leg and gluteal muscles, weight gain, and problems with your hip flexors. In fact, sitting is actually harder on your back than standing because it can put traumatic pressure on the disks in your back.
The simple truth is that humans were made to stand. Your heart and cardiovascular system work better that way, and when you’re physically active, your energy levels improve and your bones maintain strength. Moving also helps aid digestion. If you spend a lot of time sitting, digestion is less efficient, so you retain fats and sugars as fat in your body.
A common misconception is that you can counteract too much sitting if you participate in moderate daily exercise. But according to The Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, the “Active Couch Potato” phenomenon states that even an active person who works out five times a week still faces risks associated with “Sitting Disease”. In other words, you can’t undo eight hours of sitting with a workout.
Fortunately, you can easily combat the effects of sitting too much simply by standing more. You can start by following these 10 tips:
1. Set an alarm each hour to ensure you’ll get out of your chair (or off your couch) throughout the day.
2. Create “movement appointments in your calendar. Use them for standing, marching in place, pulling your knees to your chest, or walking up and down a flight of stairs.
3. Stand or walk around your house while you’re on Zoom calls.
4. Buy an adjustable desk so that it’s very easy to flex from sitting to standing during your workday.
5. Get fresh air. Go outside and take short walks throughout the day.
6. Stand up and stretch your neck, legs, arms, shoulders and chest.
7. Try a chair that encourages movement even while sitting, such as a Swiss ball.
8. When watching TV, set a movement challenge for every commercial break (instead of fast forwarding through them).
9. Monitor your daily step count. Set a goal and stick to it. If you need extra motivation, join a online group to help you hit your target step count.
10. If you’re leading a meeting, consider including 5 minutes in the agenda where you ask everyone to stand up and/or stretch.
Start small by picking three things from the above list that you’ll change this week to get more active. Then, take note of how you feel on days when you incorporate standing and movement versus days when you don’t. How does your body feel? How is your mood? Are you able to concentrate better throughout the day? Becoming aware of the differences in how you feel might surprise you.
These days, we can all use a positive boost to our physical and mental well-being, and there’s no better way to start than by standing up – a perfect New Year’s Resolution!