It seems that every time I check the news these days I’m met with another study that says inactivity shortens our lives. It rots our brains. It wrecks our blood chemistry, even if we exercise every day.
Let me be clear: it’s not just that exercise is beneficial – we all know that already. It’s that even if we exercise, hours of inactivity take a huge toll. The negative effects of sitting cannot be undone by exercise. In other words, sitting is the new smoking – no sensible person will continue to do it.
It is so easy to settle into the desk chair and shut out the world, get down to business, and seek to work at our productive best. So when these new studies find that sitting shortens our lives, how can we organize our work to minimize the damage?
First, take frequent breaks. I’ve become a fan of the Pomodoro Technique, which combines 25-minute bursts of work with 5-minute breaks. I usually use my breaks to move, or at least stretch. Now I’m using them to go outside and walk to the end of the block more often. (And that’s all it takes, according to a recent Australian study. A short walk was as good as a jog at preventing the blood sugar spikes and insulin disruptions caused by prolonged sitting.)
Stand up to work. An American Cancer Society study found that women who sit for more than six hours a day were 37 percent more likely to die during the course of the 13-year study than those who sat fewer than three hours per day. Consider a hydraulic desk that can adjust from sitting to standing.
Use a cordless headset to speak on the phone. Then use that freedom to walk around the office while you talk. Or just stand and shift from side to side, if walking isn’t possible. Just get out of the chair.
Don’t sit to watch television. The average American watches over four hours of television each day, usually seated. Instead of parking on the couch, stand while you watch. I like do the ironing while watching a favorite show. I used to think I was just making the ironing more pleasant; now I know that I’m taking the risk out of TV.
For more on how to step away from your chair, see: