6 Ways to Reduce the Health Risks of Sitting All Day, According to Experts
These simple strategies can make your workday much healthier.
For many Americans, the workweek means long, uninterrupted stretches of time spent sitting in front of a screen. Unfortunately, extended periods of physical inactivity are a leading cause of disease and disability, the World Health Organization (WHO) warns.
"Sedentary lifestyles increase all causes of mortality, double the risk of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and obesity, and increase the risks of colon cancer, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, lipid disorders, depression and anxiety," the organization writes. In fact, WHO experts note that "60 to 85 percent of people in the world—from both developed and developing countries—lead sedentary lifestyles, making it one of the more serious yet insufficiently addressed public health problems of our time."
But how, exactly, can you offset the serious side effects of sitting when the workday demands your focus? Read on for six simple tips on how to reduce the health risks of sitting all day, as recommended by doctors.
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Take frequent breaks.
If you find that your daily routine has you sitting for hours on end, experts say one of the best things you can do to ward off health risks is to take frequent breaks. Ideally, you should get up and move around for at least 10 minutes out of every hour.
"It's crucial to make an effort to stand up and move around frequently throughout the day," says Conor O'Flynn, MD, founder of O'Flynn Medical. "This could involve setting a timer to remind you to take a short break every hour, during which you can stand up, stretch, or take a brief walk. Alternatively, you could consider using a standing or adjustable desk that allows you to alternate between sitting and standing positions throughout the day," he suggests.
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Make time for exercise.
Another way to offset the effects of sitting for long stretches is to commit to exercise during your active hours.
"In addition to breaking up periods of sitting, incorporating physical activity into your daily routine is also important," says O'Flynn. "This could involve taking a walk during lunch breaks, going for a jog after work, or participating in an after-work sport or fitness class. By staying active, you can help maintain good posture, improve circulation, and boost energy levels, all of which can reduce the negative impacts of sitting for long periods."
Focus on nutrition.
Anyone who spends the majority of the day sitting knows that it can take a toll on your energy level. Sony Sherpa, MD, a holistic physician from the organic wellness company Nature's Rise, says that eating small portions of healthy meals can help you maintain your energy level when you have to sit for longer stretches.
"Don't forget about nutrition," advises Sherpa. "Eating small portions throughout the day instead of three large meals helps keep energy levels steady. This also means avoiding excessive snacking during downtime, since this could lead to weight gain over time due to inadequate nutrition intake."
Use ergonomic office equipment.
If you have to sit for long periods of time for work, using ergonomic office equipment can help relieve symptoms. "For example, using a supportive chair that provides adequate lower back support and a comfortable seat can help reduce strain on your back and reduce discomfort," explains O'Flynn.
"You should also make sure that your desk is set up correctly, with your keyboard and mouse positioned within easy reach and your screen positioned at eye level to minimize strain on your neck and eyes," the doctor advises.
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Stretch every day.
Stretching can have a profound effect on your physical wellbeing—especially if you tend to sit for long periods of time. In fact, you don't even have to get up from your work station to try them.
"There are some simple exercises you can do at your desk to help reduce stiffness and discomfort," says O'Flynn. "This could include neck rolls, back stretches, leg lifts, or even just doing a few simple squats or lunges. By taking a few minutes each hour to do these exercises, you can help keep your muscles active and reduce the negative impacts of sitting for long periods of time."
Staying hydrated can also reduce the health risks of sitting for long periods of time, says Sherpa. "Staying well hydrated may reduce fatigue caused by extended periods spent seated," she notes. Recent research has also found that staying well hydrated can lower your risk of a range of chronic illnesses, including heart disease, cancer, and more.
Of course, there's one more way that drinking ample water will help reduce the effects of sitting: by prompting you to take more frequent bathroom breaks. Make the most of your time away from the computer by throwing in an extra walk around the office, or by stretching before returning to your desk.