Sitting is now called the new smoking. It’s associated with poor health and we do so much of it, one might even say sitting is addictive. While I don’t think sitting as bad as smoking, it still increases your chances of getting diabetes, heart disease and cancer, and can lead to early death.
So what can you do? You’ve got work deadlines, need to study or just want to relax in your favourite chair (binge watching Netflix?). This is our reward for progress; being physically inactive. And we all know it’s bad for us.
Getting active of course, helps. But most of us have a pattern of sitting for 6-8 hours (or more) per day and then exercising. That’s better than not exercising but those long stretches of sitting can’t be undone by being active later. We need to be active throughout the day because it’s just as important to avoid sitting for continuous periods as how much total time you spend sitting each day.
Our body is an efficient machine, it knows when to rev up when you start moving and when to shut down when you’re not. It’s like those cars that turn off at a stop light. Your body does the same. Sitting for a long time shuts down enzymes and hormones that are used to clear fats and sugar from the blood. Essentially, if you’re not moving, your muscles don’t need the energy. The bad news is those fats and sugars staying in the blood aren’t healthy.
The good news is this can be prevented and reversed as even a small amount of movement is enough to get your motor going. Getting up every 20 minutes to go for a light two minute walk can sugars from accumulating in your blood.
If you’re thinking of getting a standing desk, hold that thought. Yes, sitting is hard on your body, not just your health but your joints too, because your joints only get lubricated when you move. So taking turns sitting and standing can help. But standing for long periods can be just as bad as sitting, resulting in body discomfort and reduced concentration, as well as increasing your chance of getting heart disease.
It’s not the act of sitting per se that is bad for you. It’s not moving. And whether you sit or stand for a long time, you’re still not moving. So below are six simple hacks to help you break up your sitting (or standing):
1. Have walking meetings
Many of us have meetings throughout the day, but how many actually require you to sit down? Not many I imagine. If it’s just two or three of you, go outside and do the meeting while walking. You can achieve just as much conversation walking as you can sitting down. Not only will you get some activity in, you’ll be a positive role model to your colleagues. If you can’t manage to have walking meetings, try to set up meetings in a colleague’s office or in a separate meeting room other than your own office, that way you get up and walk somewhere else.
2. Get out for lunch
This doesn’t mean you have to buy lunch necessarily. No, it just means taking the time you have for your lunch break to get out and be active. It can be a walk, run, going to the nearby community centre for a fitness class or swim, or anything that gets you going. If you eat your lunch at your desk (like I do), fair enough, but get up afterwards. Remember, if you’ve been sitting for a while, and then eat and continue sitting, your body won’t work as well in metabolising your food. Going for a walk after lunch will help your body digest. If it’s a nice day, take your lunch outside. Being outside can refresh you, which will lead to greater productivity compared to sitting through your lunch. It might even prevent that crash a lot of us experience around 2 to 3 pm.
3. Have an email to send to a co-worker? Go see the person instead
We spend lots of time emailing, texting and messaging through Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. A lot of times to someone right down the hall. So before pressing send, stop yourself and walk over to the person’s desk. Doing so will get you up and moving. It will also give you face time with other people which has benefits for your well-being.
4. Send your print jobs to the printer down the hall
That printer in your office is pretty convenient; just swivel your chair and bingo, you pick up the printed paper. But convenience isn’t always good for you. To get you moving, ret rid of your office printer and set your default printer to one further away, such as in another office or common area down the hall. If there isn’t another printer, see if you can move yours out into a common area.
5. Downsize your water bottle
It seems everybody has a water bottle with them. Go into any office and you’ll likely see a water bottle on the desk. And over the years, there’s been a trend for bigger and bigger water bottles. It’s as if people are planning to camp out at our desk; and that’s the problem. Instead of having that one litre, or even two litre, water bottle, go with something smaller such as a coffee mug. If it’s smaller, you’ll need to fill it more often and unless you have a sink right beside you, that means getting up and moving.
6. Set your phone to alarm every twenty minutes
If none of the above work for you, either due to your work or school set-up or you’re retired, you can still have a solution to get you up and moving. Set your phone to alarm every 20 minutes to remind you it’s time to get up. Or you can do what I do; use a cooking timer. It’s cheap and effective. Also it’s not as distracting as a phone, and you don’t risk the temptation of checking your emails or Instagram posts rather than getting up.
Breaking up your time sitting with short breaks (or snacks) of activity will keep your engine going and help your body and mind stay healthy and sharp.
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