I know how important physical activity is for you. But I’ve also heard that just the act of sitting for long periods (like I do at my desk every day at work) can be hazardous to your health. If this is true, what can I do about it?
Recent research has, in fact, made a connection between too much downtime — that is, down-on-your-butt-time — and increased health risks.
In a 2012 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers examined data over 8.5 years from nearly 241,000 adults ages 50 to 71. The people in the study did not report any cancer, heart disease or respiratory disease at the beginning of the study.
The researchers asked participants to estimate the number of hours of overall sitting time per day, as well as the number of hours spent watching television. Both types of sedentary behavior were associated with higher mortality over the course of the study.
The greatest risk was noted for those watching the most television: Compared with those reporting one hour of television viewing per day, participants who reported seven hours of TV viewing per day had a 50 percent greater risk of dying, even after adjusting for other risk factors, such as the amount of physical activity the person engaged in otherwise.
The researchers weren’t certain why television viewing would have a different effect than other types of sitting, but wondered if people just had more difficulty estimating their total sitting time than their TV-watching time.
At any rate, your question is a valid one: Many people today sit for long periods both on the job and at leisure. The overall effect can be profound.
What can you do? Get creative and find ways to get moving:
- At the office, stand up, stretch, and take a quick walk if you can once an hour. Set an alarm as a reminder.
- Stand up whenever you talk on the phone — and opt to make a phone call more often instead of sending an email.
- Encourage your colleagues to have “standing” meetings. They’re usually shorter and more productive, as well as healthier.
- Examine your TV watching. Do you really enjoy what you watch, or has it just become a habit? If you can pare down your viewing, use the extra time to take a walk through the neighborhood, clean up some clutter or run the vacuum cleaner. Even small amounts of additional movement can be helpful.