April 24, 2024

Sitting all day is harmful to your health. Here’s how to reduce the effects

Most people care staying healthy — it gets motivated, that’s the problem. If you scared exerciseit can be hard to find a reason compelling enough to get you out of your seat and make you do it get moving.

It turns out it’s getting up just as important as the exercise itself. And that’s because there is an insidious health hazard built into all of our lives. Are you ready to hear it? You don’t want to sit down for this.

The big problem here is actually that you sit too much. As the world modernizes and digitalizes, we spend much more time sitting than we used to. The problem, as a growing mountain of research shows, is that sitting takes its toll on our health. While it may be too extreme to call it the new smoking, it does have a negative effect on a number of important health factors. Let’s take a closer look at that. (For more health tips, explore these ways to hack your happiness And three ways to find your blood type.)

How sitting affects your body

The man on the phone is slumped on a chair, with his leg extended. The man on the phone is slumped on a chair, with his leg extended.

Sitting correlates with a greater risk of chronic diseases.

Tony Anderson/Getty Images

Sitting a lot means that you have what experts call a sedentary lifestyle. And that has serious consequences for your health. Research shows that people who sit a lot (for hours at a time) have a greater chance of:

In other words, the more you sit, the more likely you are to face some of the biggest obstacles to both longevity and quality of life. Constantly staying in the same position overloads some muscles and underworks others, which over time can cause cramps, tension or weakness. It also slows metabolism and blood flow, making it harder for the body to regulate your blood sugar, blood pressure, and more.

That means that even if you never get a serious diagnosis, sitting can make you feel physically worse day in and day out. Additionally, sitting too much can negatively impact your mental state and even your brain health. As reported by Yale Medicine, sitting has been linked to depression and dementia.

To make this all clear, several studies have shown that too much sitting is associated with higher overall mortality, or mortality from any cause. This may be due to the direct health effects of sitting, or because a sedentary lifestyle is associated with other behaviors that impact health.

Long story short: When you look at the increasing amount of research on our sedentary lifestyles, it’s clear that sitting too much is not doing us any good.

Four ways to reduce the effects of sitting all day

Non-binary people water houseplants with a blue watering can. Non-binary people water houseplants with a blue watering can.

Whether you have a desk job or a disability that requires you to sit often, you need to know that you have options.

Luis Alvarez/Getty Images

You may have no choice but to sit a lot. Whether you have a desk job or a disability that requires you to sit often, you need to know that you have options. The steps you take (quite literally) can make a dramatic difference in the health risks you face.

1. Sit less (if possible)

To start, if you are physically able, try to sit less in general. This may mean raising your laptop or monitor higher so you can do that stand while you work or choosing to listen to a podcast and take a walk instead of watching an episode of a TV show.

Evaluate where you spend the most time, whether that’s at work, at home or elsewhere. Then look for ways to get more on your feet. If you tend to sit on the couch at home, consider taking up an active hobby or preparing more complicated meals; Some extra time to exercise can do wonders.

2. Pause your sitting

If you do sit, break long stretches of sitting as often as possible. According to the findings of one study, you should aim to get up every 30 minutes and move your body for three minutes. Even taking just 15 steps can be enough to reset your body and relieve some of the stress that sitting brings. The more exercise you incorporate into your day, the better.

It may be helpful to set a timer for 30 minutes when you are at your desk, as Dr. Erik Nastl√ľnd, the Karolinska Institute professor who led the study, told the New York Times. Not only will this serve as a reminder to get up, but it can also help you concentrate. Research shows that the amount of time an individual can focus on one task is anywhere from 10 to 52 minutes. Taking a break every half hour will help you reach that sweet spot. Knowing you’re on a timer can motivate you to stay on task so you can get more done even during sedentary sessions.

To avoid sitting too much, it’s helpful to do things that encourage you to get up. If you are able to do so, you can:

  • Make it a habit to walk while you talk on the phone
  • Use a smaller water glass/bottle and coffee cup so you have to get up more often to refill
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator
  • If you take the train or bus, choose to stand (this will free up a seat for someone who might need it)
  • Use your lunch break to take a walk (you get the added benefit of vitamin D)
  • Walk from one side of your house/apartment to the other between each TV episode

Senior woman slides card at public transport station. Senior woman slides card at public transport station.

To avoid sitting too much, it’s helpful to do things that encourage you to get up.

Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images

3. Exercise regularly

Make it a point to exercise for at least 30 minutes every weekday. Regular exercise can help counteract the health risks of sitting, but it won’t completely reverse them. Officially, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise per week, or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise; plus two or more days of strength training.

4. Sit correctly

Finally, if you are sitting, make sure that your sitting position does not put unnecessary strain on your body. The best sitting position is one that:

  • This allows you to rest your feet flat on the floor with your knees bent at 90 degrees
  • Keep your neck straight (this may require raising your computer screen)
  • Helps relax your shoulders (e.g. you want armrests on your chair)
  • This allows you to type or write with your elbows at a 90-degree angle and your wrists supported

Some people may also benefit from extra support for their lumbar spine (basically your lower back). You can purchase a cushion to place in your chair to maintain the natural curvature of your spine.

Illustrated figure shows incorrect and correct sitting postures. Illustrated figure shows incorrect and correct sitting postures.

When you sit, make sure you have the correct posture.

LadadikArt/Getty Images

Ultimately, the amount you sit has a direct impact on your overall health. This does not mean that you can never enjoy a relaxing day at home. But it’s worth evaluating how often you sit and for how long so you can take steps to ensure you don’t sit too much.

For more wellbeing advice, visit the seven best workouts for absolute beginners And our guide to a great workout at home. Plus, here are the five absolute best workouts for heart health.

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