Research is mounting that chronic sitting is associated with cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, obesity and even early death. But sitting can be hard to avoid in modern life, so what can you do about it?
It turns out there are many small actions you can take throughout the day to help reduce your risks of developing sitting-related health problems.
1. Take a 10-minute walk
Researchers from the University of Missouri School of Medicine found that blood circulation and vascular function in your limbs is impaired when you sit for prolonged periods of time. But they also found that walking for only 10 minutes, the equivalent of about 1000 steps, restores healthy blood flow and vascular function.
The study specifically looked at participants who had sat for six hours straight. Then they went for a 10-minute walk. This was enough activity to counteract the vascular impairments of sitting all day.
Itís fairly easy to fit a 10-minute walk into your day. You can park in the back of the parking lot if you drive to work or college, take the stairs instead of the elevator or take a quick walk around the block when possible. You can even do a few laps around your local grocery store or mall when you go shopping.
2. Stand up regularly
A study published in Diabetes Care showed that 5 minutes of standing for every 30 minutes of sitting was linked to improved blood sugar regulation, whether or not the participants stood still for the 5 minutes or walked around. The same routine, standing for 5 out of every 30 minutes, was also recommended in an International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity paper that examined ways to counteract the negative effects of prolonged sitting.
Dr. James Levine, the co-director of the Mayo Clinic, found that getting up after a long period of sitting has many positive physiological effects. For instance, within 90 seconds of standing up, your muscular and cellular functions that process blood sugar and cholesterol are activated.
To integrate regular standing breaks into your day, try standing while talking on the phone, waiting at a doctorís office, or when youíre on a bus. At work, stand up to look in your filing cabinet instead of rolling your chair over to it. Walk over and ask a coworker a question instead of emailing them. Take the long way to the bathroom. You can also set a timer on your phone or computer to remind you to stand every half hour.
But donít get carried away. Itís been shown that standing for long periods of time is also harmful to your body. Breaking up your activity throughout the day is whatís important.
3. Keep track of your steps
Getting a pedometer is an excellent way to maintain awareness of how much you move during the day. It can give you a good idea of where youíre at currently and if you need to step up your movement.
Recommendations vary on how many steps you should aim for per day, depending on your age and current fitness level. If youíre currently getting very few steps in per day, a good goal is to try and walk a bit more daily until you average 5,000 steps each day. If you lead a more active lifestyle, try for 10,000 and up.
4. Maintain a healthy sitting posture
When you do have to sit, there are ways to improve your posture and back health. Esther Gokhale is a well-known ďposture guruĒ who has studied and lectured on back health and posture throughout the world.
She has identified two of the best postures for sitting, which she calls stack sitting and stretch sitting. Stack sitting is when you sit with your bum sticking out slightly behind you, but only slightly. Gokhale has found this posture allows your breath to naturally lengthen and settle your spine while sitting.
Stretch sitting is another way to elongate your spine by using a prop on your chair, such as a towel or cushion. She demonstrates this technique in the video below.