Sit less, stand more to improve your health

Do you sit too much? Many people spend eight or more hours a day in a chair, and it's not good for your health.  (David Goldman -- Associated Press)

Do you sit too much? Many people spend eight or more hours a day in a chair, and it’s not good for your health. (David Goldman — Associated Press)

Here’s what I did yesterday: Drove to my office, worked on my computer, attended a meeting, drove home, relaxed on the couch and went to bed.

What do all of those activities have in common (besides sounding a bit boring)? None of them involved standing up.

We have become a society of sitters. We sit while commuting, working, eating and watching television. According to David Conroy at Penn State University, many of us spend eight of our waking hours with our butts in a chair.

The health risks of this kind of sedentary lifestyle — including obesity, heart disease, and diabetes — are well known. A 2012 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association even found a link between prolonged sitting and mortality; those participants who sat 11 or more hours per day had a 40 percent increased risk of dying in the next three years compared to those who sat for fewer than four hours a day.

The scariest part? Conroy’s research indicates that a regular exercise routine isn’t enough to offset all those negative effects. If you’re running 3 miles every morning but then spending the rest of the day parked in front of your computer (guilty as charged), you’re still at risk for detrimental health outcomes.

Does your daily routine involve as much sitting as mine does? Here are some ideas to get you up and moving throughout the day.

1. Work on your feet: Standing desks are growing increasingly popular, and many people report feeling more energized and productive when using them. If that’s not a possibility, try designating certain tasks — such as talking on the phone — as ones you always stand up to do.

2. You can also consider holding a stand-up meeting for both health and efficiency reasons: One study comparing stand-up meetings to sit-down ones found that groups who stayed on their feet made equally good decisions in 34 percent less time.

3. Take frequent breaks from sitting:
Conroy recommends taking a five-minute standing break for every hour in a chair. “Frequent interruptions to the amount of time spent sitting are likely to accumulate over time into valuable health benefits,” he said in a 2013 University news story.

If you need to, set a timer every 60 minutes to remind you to get up and check your mailbox, talk to a colleague, or refill your water glass.

4. Extend your usual standing times: Look at when you do move throughout the day and see if you can add a few extra minutes. This could mean parking farther away so it takes longer to walk into the office or grocery store, or it could mean purposefully using a restroom on a different floor in your building or home.

5. Relax in motion: Try to avoid going from sitting all day to sitting all evening. After a long day, it’s tempting to come home and plop down on the couch, so look for ways to unwind that involve standing up.

You could go for a walk after dinner, do a series of standing stretches, or commit to getting up during television commercials. After our son is in bed, my husband and I like to play a round of ping-pong while we share the highlights of our days.

Do you sit for most of the day, like I do? What are your tips for standing up more?

About Katie Markey McLaughlin

Katie Markey McLaughlin, M.S., is a freelance journalist and blogger who’s passionate about all things healthy living. Learn more about her writing at KatieMcLcom.
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