Sitting is the new smoking, have you heard the term? Science has proven how dangerous smoking cigarettes aka “cancer sticks” can be for our health, but did you know that sitting for long periods of time could be just as bad for our health and longevity? As Americans, we sit a ton. If you stop and think about it, the hours can add up quickly, especially if you are like most Americans and work at a desk and/or in front of a screen. That’s at least 8 hours per day if not more. Then, add in sitting for meals, your daily commute to and from work, relaxation, and sleep. Very quickly we can easily put in 20+ hours of sitting every day!
There’s a ton of research showing how bad excessive sitting is for us. For example, excessive sitting has been linked to many health issues including breast cancer, prostate cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension, and depression—even if you exercise vigorously after your 8-hour workday. The same folks that hit the gym 5-6 days per week for an hour after sitting 8+ hours per day have a similar risk for chronic disease as the people who do not exercise at all after sitting. Researchers have concluded that for each hour you spend sitting, your life expectancy is reduced by about 21.8 minutes, regardless of diet and exercise.
As a Primal Health Coach, I tend to look to our caveman ancestors for guidance on how much we should be moving. Don’t get me wrong, the Caveman lifestyle may not be ideal in today’s society, but we cannot deny hundreds of thousands of years of human evolution that got us to the top of the food chain and where we are today. Instead, I like to keep one foot in ancestral living and one foot in modern conveniences so that I can teach my clients how to be happy, healthy, and free of disease without having to live like a caveman.
Looking back at Caveman times, we spent most of our time hunting, gathering food, and fighting off predators. Of course, there was downtime but we did not spend our leisure in the “casts” that we commonly see today. The casts I’m describing are the chairs we sit in and the shoes we wear on our feet that place us in undesirable postures that make us weak, leads to inactive muscles, tons of back pain and not to mention the obesity epidemic. The chairs we sit in are SO comfortable we have removed the negative feedback that lets us know it’s time to move positions. Instead, we can sit for hours on end in the same position never adjusting while we get sicker and sicker.
So what can we do as a society filled with desk workers? Sitting for extended periods of time is a reality that most people cannot avoid but there are many ways to incorporate movement on a daily basis that help keep us free from disease and lifestyle risks associated with extended periods of sitting and inactivity.
Fix Your Environment
I’m a huge fan of fixing your environment to suit your needs. For me, that means that my work environment contains cues that make me want to move more throughout the day. In my door hangs a pull-up bar so that when I walk by I can knock out a few chin-ups or hang to decompress my spine or stretch inactive muscles. On the floor, you’ll find bouncing balls to sit on which allow me to engage my core and keep from slouching like a chair with a back tends to do. I’ve got random kettlebells, foam rollers, barbells, bands, and mobility tools stashed so that I can drop to the floor and move at any time. I like to position boxes and chairs around my workstation to prop up one leg, stretch, or balance. At your desk, you can place your hands on the back of your chair and do a forward fold to decompress the back or do a couple of touches and go squats by standing up, touching your butt to your seat, and repeating for 30 squats.
Adjust Your Chair or Standing Desk
Let’s talk about your desk. Pick one that’s uncomfortable (sounds crazy right? But hear me out) so that you can sense when you’ve sat for too long and need to switch positions, like a wooden desk from middle school days. Sit on the edge of your seat to maintain a good posture and to keep from slouching, which causes muscles to get weaker and flares back pain. Or use a rolled up towel for the same reason. I used to drive a ton for work and thought there had to be a magic seat that would fix my back problems but the problem was my lack of movement. I started keeping a 35lb kettle bell in my trunk and pulling over every 30-45 minutes to do swings and goblet squat, which helped a TON. Many times, I wouldn’t feel required to go to the gym at the end of the day because I had already done my workout and I had plenty of energy from moving all day long so I didn’t need a nap during the day or when I got home. And that’s the point! If we build in regular movement throughout the day then it is our choice to exercise at the end of the day, not a requirement to combat all the sitting.
Don’t Just Stand
Another great idea is to have a stool and bouncy balls to lean on especially if you’re lucky enough to have a standing desk or treadmill desk at your office because you want to vary your position throughout the day. Standing is not enough. If we stand all day in the same position we see the same disease risk as those that sit all day. My neck hurts just thinking about it. We want to vary our movement throughout the day. Humans are meant to lunge, squat, hinge, stand on one leg, walk, sit, and lie down. Put these movements on a playlist in your head and move through each over the course of the workday.
Stand, Walk or Pace for Calls
When taking calls, if you can, stand up and walk outside for fresh air and movement. Back in my sales days, I could burn a hole in the carpet if I wasn’t careful. Some of those calls can be stressful! Decompress and get your steps in for the two birds, one stone effect.
Per Dr. Joe Mercola, One study found that standing 35x per day was more ideal and that standing once every hour was more effective than walking on a treadmill. He goes on to recommend jump squatting for 6 reps every 30 minutes or doing super slow squats at your desk to be more effective and save time.
“When it comes to interrupting your sitting, you want to stand up around 35 times a day or so to counteract the cardiovascular health risks associated with sitting. This is based on double-blind research where volunteers would spend four days in bed to induce detrimental changes. She then tested two groups to see which was more effective, walking or standing, and how long would you have to walk or how many times do you have to stand up to get better again?”
- Standing up once every hour was more effective than walking on a treadmill for 15 minutes for cardiovascular and metabolic changes
- Sitting down and standing up repeatedly for 32 minutes does NOT have the same effect as standing up once, 32 times over the course of a day. To get the benefit, the stimulus must be spread throughout the day
Count Your Steps
One of my favorite tools is step tracking and you can figure out how many steps you are getting each day by wearing a FitBit, Apple Watch or by downloading an app on your cell phone. It may be surprising to see just how many steps your current routine provides. I know it was surprising for me when I started tracking my steps. I assumed that with my active lifestyle I was getting 10’s of thousands of steps each day but I wasn’t as active as I thought. The good news is that you can improve the number of steps easily with new healthy habits by finding more opportunities to stretch your legs with a quick walk or break from the day. My new favorite time to walk is after meals. Studies show that as little as 10 minutes can improve digestion, curve blood glucose spikes following a carbohydrate-rich meal, and improve body composition. For that reason, when I’m trying to lean out and reduce body fat (hello beach bod!), my go-to solution is a short ten-minute walk after meals. When figuring out how many steps you need in a day it depends on how many you are currently getting daily. 10,000 steps is a good number to shoot for but if you’re a beginner and see that you’re currently getting 5,000 then shoot for 7,000 and try to improve with time.
As you can see, the health risks associated with excessive sitting are alarming, but the good news is that we can fix these issues quickly with healthy habits and reverse years of damage at any age by incorporating movement into the workday by following the tips referenced in the article. If your looking to get started and need some help hiring a health coach can be a great first step. Reach out to me, Coach Mitch, using the contact information below and start your health revolution today!