Question: Are you sitting as you read these words?
If your answer is "yes," it may be time to get up on your feet!
- Higher blood pressure
- Higher blood sugar
- Unhealthy cholesterol levels
- Excess body fat (especially around the abdomen, where it could be most dangerous to your health)
These are some of the same types of health issues that can be caused by obesity and smoking—underscoring that sitting could be one of our most harmful lifestyle habits.
Of course, we may not always have a choice when it comes to sitting more than we’d like. Many jobs require sitting at a desk or behind a wheel for extended periods.
Many people try to get around this by sitting on an exercise ball while they work. But Ashish Raju, M.D., of Carilion Clinic Vascular Surgery, disagrees. He believes that the risks far outweigh any potential benefit from improved posture or moving more—assertions that are unfounded.
"Exercise balls should be used for exercise," he said. "They do not have any role as a ‘chair replacement.’"
Dr. Raju cites increased risk of injury and decreased stability among the disadvantages of exercise balls as chairs.
"Being obese, increased age and other conditions will only magnify this injury risk," he said.
Instead, he recommends using a supportive ergonomic chair when working in a seated position.
And what about standing desks?
“Standing for a long time isn’t good for you, either—it can increase the risk of foot pain, varicose veins and other health issues,” says Dr. Raju.
“And some evidence suggests there may not be any significant difference in calorie loss when standing versus sitting.”
How to Get Moving
Since standing desks and exercise balls don't lead to better health at work, the solution is exercise.
Ideally, a healthy adult should:
- Get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or at least 75 minutes of high-intensity aerobic activity per week (or an equivalent combination)
- Perform moderate or greater intensity strengthening activities that involve all the major muscle groups at least twice per week
Incorporating physical activity into your workday could help you reach those goals with ease, while offsetting the negative effects of sitting still.
And it begins with taking a break from work!
Begin taking breaks and incorporating movement into your workday with these ideas:
- Stand, stretch or walk while talking on the phone or taking a work break
- Go for a walk, jump rope or follow a short yoga video on your lunch break
- Take regular stretch breaks throughout the day (especially for the neck and wrists if you work on a computer)
- Shut your office door for ten minutes and do this anywhere-workout
- Suggest walking meetings to your coworkers
"The best thing is any activity that increases your heart rate," says Dr. Raju.
Remember that some physical activity is better than none, so start where you are and go at your own pace. Getting up to move every 30 minutes would be fantastic—but again, do whatever you can!
You may be surprised how much physical activity you’ll gradually be able to work into your day—and how much you’ll begin looking forward to it.
You'll be more likely to make it a permanent habit if you have your gear with you. Try keeping a few of the following items in your car or workspace to encourage physical activity:
- A water bottle
- Sporty sneakers
- Grip strengthening balls
- A jump rope
- Yoga mat
- Resistance bands or hand weights for bicep curls, shoulder presses, etc.
As you work on moving more during your workday, you’ll be earning a big payout for your health—and you’ll likely see some improvements in your energy, mood and productivity too.
Now get out of that chair and get moving!