If you spend all day glued to your office chair like most U.S. workers do, your job could be taking a serious toll on your health. The reason: Too much desk time -- or other sedentary pursuits -- can steal years from your life, even if you log hours on the treadmill.
The amount of time spent sitting or lying down is strongly connected to your risk of heart disease, cancer, obesity, diabetes and even an early death. According to a study in the American Journal of Epidemiology, women who sat for more than six hours a day had a 37 percent greater risk of premature death, compared with those who sat for three, regardless of their weight or workout habits.
“We don't know how much total sitting time per day is too much. However, our research is currently trying to understand how much sitting at one time is too much,” says Genevieve Healy, Ph.D., senior research fellow at the University of Queensland, Australia. Turns out, it’s the prolonged, uninterrupted bouts of sitting still that seem to be the most dangerous. When muscles stop moving, your metabolism slows down, your body stops burning fat and starts to store it, and triglyceride and blood sugar levels rise -- which could clog arteries, says Healy.
So what can those of us who spend half our waking hours attached to our desks, steering wheels and sofas do to reverse this march toward poor health?
First off, says Healy, don’t give up on exercise. Just as a big salad can’t undo a day’s worth of unhealthy eating, a 30-minute run can’t counteract the damage from sitting all day. But it can help. “The most healthy are those who sit least and exercise most; the least healthy are those that sit most and exercise least," says Healy. So the message is to exercise but to also think of your physical activity throughout the day -- stand up, sit less, move more and more often.
Stand Up More
Secondly, stand up at least every 30 minutes, says Healy. You don’t have to do jumping jacks or run around the block. Simply get up, stretch and walk around to activate your muscles.
Be a Clock Watcher
If you get lost in your work, set a timer to remind you to take breaks every 20 to 30 minutes. Download a free timer app, like SnapTimer, on your desktop to use as an instant alarm clock.
Practice Good Hydration
Drink plenty of water. This habit forces you to get up at least once an hour to use the bathroom or refill your water bottle.
Take a Stand
If it’s not bothersome to your co-workers, stand up when you take phone calls or file papers. You can also clean and straighten up your desk at the end of each day while standing.
Track Your Every Move
Wear a pedometer. Clipping on a step counter or activity monitor can clue you in to how much you move each day. Wear it for a week to determine how much you usually move; then, set a goal to increase your distance by 10 percent each week.
Tune In, Tone Up
When watching TV, don’t fast-forward through commercials. Use that time to do a small workout or complete quick household chores, like vacuuming or dusting the living room. If your TV time is more than an hour or two per day, think about installing a treadmill or stationary bike and exercising at the same time. Setting your cardio machine to the slowest speed is always better than doing nothing.