“Sitting can kill you.” This has been a recurring health warning, headline, and meme for some time. Sit too much and you’re looking at a lifetime of heart disease, obesity, and even cancer. After a couple years of worrying about the sitting epidemic, medical research has a more concrete answer: during your work day, you need to stand at least two hours, ideally four, for optimal health.
Not only does the connection between sitting and poor health mystify a lot of people, it doesn’t seem clear what a person should do about it. Standing desks may be an option if you own your own startup in Silicon Valley, work for a forward-thinking project manager, or are hired out by a staffing agency for creatives. Unfortunately, most office workers are cubicle-bound and left a little stumped about how to sit less during the week.
What’s the Big Deal About Sitting, Anyway?
It turns out the warnings about heart disease and other health problems in connection to sitting are proven. Your circulation is constricted when you sit for a long period of time and this decreases oxygen flow throughout the body; it also damages blood vessels. Prolonged periods of inactivity over years of a person’s life, like the kind facilitated by decades of working at a desk, is correlated to diabetes, cancer, and even premature death.
Standing Isn’t Enough
It turns out if you stand around in the same position for too long you are not much better off than if you sit for the same amount of time. The real problem is not moving enough. Standing with your knees locked, for instance, cuts off circulation as badly as sitting does (good news for all of us who can’t work at a standing desk anyway).
Since the side effects of too much sitting are quickly reversed by getting up and moving, it is worth figuring out how to incorporate more physical activity into your workday. You don’t have to do the equivalent of climbing the Mt. Umunhum Trail everyday; small efforts each hour can accumulate to the prescribed amount of movement. Here are a few ideas for leaving your chair and moving closer to the recommended 2 to 4 hours of daily non-sitting.
Two Hours Worth of Movement at Work
One of the best antidotes to sitting is walking. Walk around your office park or through the hallways of your building on breaks. Take a call outside on your cell if you can and stroll while you talk. Find someone to walk with; maybe that team of UX developers hunched over their desks most of the day would love a chance to catch some fresh air. Walk to lunch, take the stairs, park as far away as you can for a pre and post workday jaunt– anything that will keep you moving. Short bits of walking spread throughout your day can add up to at least 30 minutes of walking in the end.
It might not be acceptable in your office for you to stand up half the day while you work. Find as many places as you can to stand and move like the break room or hallway. Take short movement breaks when you get up for coffee or to use the restroom. If you stand and move for just five minutes every hour you’ll put in a good 45 minutes of not sitting by the end of the day.
Another idea is to offer to run errands, make copies, or perform other tasks for your team that get you up on your feet. If you do have a private office or a more laidback workspace you can pick particular activities, like taking phone calls, and designate them standing activities that you have to get out of your chair to do. You can easily work up to a couple hours on your feet this way.
You probably won’t squeeze training for the San Francisco Marathon, or even the Bay to Breakers, into a typical workday, but you can do some of your favorite strengthening exercises. You don’t even need to break a sweat– stretches are the best way to move your body without drawing too much attention if you’re packed in with your coworkers. You can do calf stretches under your desk when you sit, arm and shoulder stretches on your way to and from the break room, and back stretches whenever you stand up. Chances are no one will notice and you can fill out your additional 15 minutes of movement without interrupting your work at all.
Working as a dedicated web designer or copywriter tied to a desk doesn’t have to mean heart disease and early death after all. A little intentional standing and moving can easily counteract the downside of sitting while working hard the rest of the day.