How to Sit Less at Work

You don’t have to qualify as a couch potato to be sitting too much. Most of us spend at least half of our day sitting: at our desks and computers, at meetings or in classrooms, in cars, on transit, and in front of TV and other screens.

Emerging research is confirming what we already suspected: the longer you sit without taking breaks to move around, the greater your chances of weight gain and developing serious health problems.

In fact, those who sit regularly for the longest stretches double their risk for diabetes, heart disease, and even death compared to less sedentary folks, according to a new article published in the November 2012 issue of the European diabetes journal Diabetologia. This meta-analysis looked at 18 large studies with a total of 794,577 participants.

"The average adult spends 50 to 70 percent of their time sitting, so the findings of this study have far-reaching implications," study leader Dr. Emma Wilmot said in a press release. "By simply limiting the time that we spend sitting, we may be able to reduce our risk of diabetes, heart disease, and death."

Even Active People at Risk”¦

Particularly troubling was the finding that even those people who exercised regularly (at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week for adults) were still at higher risk for health consequences if they did not take regular movement breaks from sitting.

A little exercise every hour can reduce or eliminate the negative impacts of regular prolonged sitting. A 2008 Australian study, published in the journal Diabetes Care, found that people who stood up regularly for at least one minute before sitting down again had healthier waistline circumferences, body mass indexes (BMIs), and triglyceride levels compared to those who did not take any breaks from prolonged sitting.

Everyone should get up and move around at least once every 60 minutes during the sedentary parts of their day. Set a 60-minute timer on your phone or computer and stand up or walk for one minute before sitting down again.

10 Ways to Sit Less at Work

  1. Walk to Printer: Place printers a short walking distance away from your desk, instead of right next to it.
  2. Stand at Laptop: Place your laptop on top of a counter, filing cabinet, or other elevated location and stand while you work, study, or read. (Also see our story about Standing Desks.)
  3. Longer Bathroom Walk: Use a restroom farther away from your desk or on a different floor.
  4. Use the Stairs: Use the stairs instead of the elevator.
  5. Walk to Water: Walk to the water cooler or drinking fountain, instead of, or in addition to, keeping a water bottle at your desk.
  6. Walking Meetings: Advocate for some standing or walking meetings and allow stretching between agenda items. (Also see our story on Workplace Walking Clubs.)
  7. Video Breaks: Pause video or screen every 60 minutes and walk around, stretch, or climb a flight of stairs before returning.
  8. Stand Every 60 Minutes: Stand and stretch your arms overhead and count to 30 before your sit down. Repeat hourly. (Also see our story on Four Office Doorway Stretches.)  Or try a simple chair twist: keeping your feet flat on the floor, turn your waist, chest, and shoulders to the right and place your hands on the chair’s backrest, holding for several breaths. Repeat to the left.
  9. Stand for Phone Calls: Stand whenever you get a phone call, whether from landline or mobile. If possible, walk around while talking.
  10. Move & Laugh at Lunch: Take a walk after eating, do stretches by your desk, walk/run the stairs, or play tag with colleagues. Remember that laughter gets the blood flowing and reduces stress.

However you do it, find ways to break up your sedentary periods, whether at work, school, or home, with more movement. The evidence has been piling up for years, but the final word is now in—stand up and shake that booty!

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The FruitGuys Magazine is your source for workplace culture, trends, and healthy living. Previously known as The FruitGuys Almanac, the Magazine began in 2007. Editors and contributors include nationally known journalists and food writers. Submissions and suggestions can be sent to the editor.