How Long Should You Sit at a Time? Is Sitting the New Smoking?

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people sitting at outdoor picnic tables
Author Name: Mia Barnes
Date: Tuesday December 1, 2020

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Do you sit a lot on-the-job? If you go from desk work at the office all day to collapsing on the couch at night, you could be doing damage to your health — even if you don’t smoke or drink. 

However, a hard day of hoeing the garden may tell you that you can’t move 24/7. Your body requires a balance of rest and activity for optimal health. So how long should you sit at a time, and what are the consequences of inactivity?

What Are the Health Risks of Sitting?

There are many health risks of sitting too often. If you keep an eye on your figure, you might worry primarily about the weight gain. While this can increase several health risks, the excess pounds alone aren’t the scariest consequence of inactivity.

With excess weight, the risk of metabolic syndrome increases. These include high cholesterol, blood pressure and sugar levels, and excess fat around your waist. Each of these symptoms significantly increases your risk of cardiovascular disease and early death. 

Those aren’t the only consequences. Prolonged sitting decreases the blood flow to your hips and makes your legs and gluteal muscles atrophy. This weakness increases your risk of falls and strains.

Another risk of excess sitting is that it causes premature degeneration of your spinal discs. This painful condition can make activities like sitting on an airplane or even working all day excruciating. It can also make your bones more brittle and prone to breakage, especially as you age.

Fatigue is an equally troubling symptom for some. Plus, prolonged sitting also increases chronic pain, which can cloud your concentration. You might find yourself unable to focus at work, which can have significant financial consequences. 

Finally, too much inactivity can exacerbate anxiety and depression. One of the symptoms of depression is low energy, but getting moving stimulates the release of endorphins. These feel-good chemicals give you a boost — but going without too long makes it increasingly challenging to lace up your running shoes. 

How Long Should You Sit for a Stretch?

Ideally, you should set a timer to stand up at least once every 30 minutes. For each half-hour you spend sitting, your metabolism slows down by 90%, and good cholesterol levels drop by 2%. Fortunately, five minutes is all you need to get things moving again. 

How to Get Up More Often 

You know that you need to move more frequently, but how can you do so if you work a desk job? The following eight suggestions can help. 

1. Use Your Commute

Are you still driving to and from work? If you live close to your office, why don’t you walk or bike? If you have large hills to tackle, electric bikes give you an added push to keep you from getting sweaty before work. 

2. Forget Your Phone

Do you rely on chat and text to communicate? If you need to ask a colleague a quick question, why don’t you get up from your desk instead of shooting a Slack message? It may give you the energy and oxygen-rich blood flow you need to regain your focus. 

3. Enjoy the Water Cooler 

While you don’t want to become the workplace Chatty Cathy, it’s okay to enjoy a bit of water-cooler gossip. You shouldn’t hang out for 45 minutes, but it’s okay to ask about your colleague’s new puppy or discuss this crazy baseball season. 

4. Stack Some Boxes

If your company has the money, see if you can request a variable-height desk. If times are tight due to the slowdown, swipe an empty printer paper box or two. You can create a makeshift model that lets you switch from sitting to standing throughout the day. 

5. Do Your Dishes

A nearly effortless way to stand up more often is to reserve your dishwasher for events like Thanksgiving. Other than that, stand at the sink to wash your dishes. Every moment on your feet counts. 

6. Walk After Meals

When you finish dinner, do you plop down on the couch? No wonder you sit so long at a time! Why not get the family together and go for a walk after you eat? You’ll all benefit from the extra exercise, and it could help you digest your meal. 

7. Window-Shop IRL (In Real Life)

Today’s world of e-commerce makes shopping effortless, but that isn’t necessarily good for your health. Why not take yourself window shopping the next time you feel the urge to splurge? Even if you don’t buy anything, the exercise and fresh air will improve your mood and benefit your body. 

8. Just Dance

The next time your favorite jam comes on, why not get up and dance? If you are at home, no one is watching — so take advantage! If your children are home, you can get them in on the fun by proposing a dance-off. 

How Long Should You Sit at a Time? It’s Not the New Smoking, but You Can Be Healthier

The answer to the “how long should you sit at a time?” question is probably “less than you do.” Sitting may or may not be the new smoking, but please try these tips to get yourself moving more often and benefit your health. 

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