Sitting at your desk for hours on end may be hazardous—not just to your waistline, but also to your health. A study from the American Cancer Society published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found a strong association between time spent sitting and an increased risk of death. Women who routinely sat six or more hours per day had a 37 percent greater risk of dying during the 16-year time period studied than those who sat fewer than three hours per day. For men, the risk was increased by 18 percent.
Whereas previous research demonstrated a direct correlation between low overall physical activity and mortality, according to One Medical Group physician Malcolm Thaler, MD, “This report is the first to demonstrate that time spent sitting, independent of other physical activity—such as exercise—is bad for you.” Thaler continues, “The leading cause of death in people who sat for longer than six hours each day was cardiovascular, and probably reflects the impact that prolonged inactivity has on metabolism, increasing the risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes and cholesterol levels.”
The simple solution? Get up more often! “The sedentary nature of our lives these days is a big problem,” says Arnold Lee, MD, a One Medical physician in San Francisco. “We went from an agrarian culture to the concrete jungle and that has brought with it significant health risks.”
For those of us with office jobs, a certain amount of sitting is unavoidable. But that doesn’t mean you need to be stuck to your desk and chair for eight hours straight. Here are a few suggestions for adding more movement into your workday. Every little bit really does help, so try to fit as many mini-exercise breaks into your schedule as you can.
1. Burn Calories While You Commute
If possible, try to walk or bike to work as often as you can. Even if that’s not an option for your entire commute, you can still increase the cardio quotient of your commute by parking farther away from your office or getting off your bus or subway a stop or two earlier. That way, you’re guaranteed to incorporate at least two brisk walks a day on your way to and from the office.
2. Book a Walking Meeting
Instead of reserving a conference room (and ordering in a tray full of unhealthy cookies or pastries), convince your coworkers to walk while you talk. Taking a meeting on the move will not only get everyone moving, it will also help the group reenergize and encourage a better mood. What could be a simpler way to boost creativity?
3. Stop IMing
Imagine you have no phone and no computer in your office. So rather than calling, texting, or emailing a colleague, you actually have to get up and walk over to his or her desk. Sure, it takes a few extra minutes, but you’ll get out of your chair, burn a few extra calories, and get face time with your colleague, which is often more productive, anyway.
4. Pace While You Talk
Use phone time as an excuse to get moving. Rather than sitting at your desk during a long call, get up and walk around the office. Not only is it healthier for your body, but even that little bit of movement can help get your blood flowing and boost your brainpower (since that blood flow is what helps deliver oxygen to your brain).
5. Replace Your Chair with a Fitness Ball
When you have no choice but to sit, turn that sedentary activity into a mini-workout. When you sit on a fitness ball, you’re forced to use more of your core muscles to keep your body upright, since you can’t “cheat” by slouching back into your chair. If you have enough privacy in your office, you could even sneak in a few ball crunches or planks to really work your core.
6. Hit the Gym at Lunchtime
A lunch hour spent eating a leisurely meal might sound like a good idea, but chances are you’ll come back feeling more sleepy than invigorated. Instead, spend that hour working up a sweat at the gym—followed by a healthy meal you bring back to your desk. “You’ll go back to work with a clearer head and feel better able to tackle the afternoon’s work,” says Lee.
7. Stash Some Exercise Equipment Under Your Desk
Keep a couple of resistance bands or a set of five- or ten-pound hand weights handy. You can do bicep curls and tricep extensions during a conference call or work in a few shoulder and upper back stretches and strengtheners whenever you need a five-minute break from hunching over your computer keyboard.
8. Wear a Pedometer
Strap on a pedometer and challenge yourself to take as many steps a day as you can. Aiming for a high number will force you to get up and get moving throughout the day. You’ll probably find that you need to take the stairs instead of the elevator, walk around the office rather than picking up the phone, or go for a run after work instead of happy hour in order to hit your goal. “Having the pedometer makes it a fun challenge and gives you more motivation to get moving,” says Lee. “And it’ll help you see that at the end of the day, all those little bursts of activity really do add up to calories burned.”
Lee, Arnold (expert opinion). One Medical Group. San Francisco, CA. May 7, 2012.
Patel, AV, et al. 2010. Leisure Time Spent Sitting in Relation to Total Mortality in a Prospective Cohort of US Adults. Am J Epid. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwq155.
Thaler, Malcolm (expert opinion). One Medical Group. New York, NY. June 8, 2012.