It’s said that sitting is the new smoking. And while this is an exaggeration of sorts, there is certainly something to it. Sedentary lifestyles have been linked to heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers, and premature death. And like smoking, sitting too much has health risks even for those who are a healthy weight and who exercise regularly.
But the good news is that it takes very little effort to counteract the effects of being too sedentary. Standing — surprise, surprise — works well. A saunter will work, too. The key is to simply take regular breaks from sitting throughout the day. It can take some time to make these standing breaks a habit, but once you get into the groove, you realize that many of the things you do sitting, you can also do standing, with some minor adjustments.
For many people, the lion’s share of sitting takes place at work. This makes the workplace a perfect target for battling our too-sedentary lifestyles, which happens to also be the conclusion of a new statement out of the U.K. by Public Health England and the Active Working Community Interest Company. For those who work primarily at desk-based jobs, the report recommends two hours of accumulated standing or light activity throughout the day, working up to a total of four hours each day. Much of this can be done taking short walking breaks or working standing up, using “sit-stand” workstations, which have been shown in early studies to significantly increase work-day standing time. These workstations offer options for working while standing or working while sitting, and they are becoming increasingly common choices in workplaces and home offices.
In a prepared statement, specific recommendations from the report include:
- 2 hours daily of standing and light activity (light walking) during working hours, eventually progressing to a total of 4 hours for all office workers whose jobs are predominantly desk based
- Regularly breaking up seated based work with standing based work, with the use of adjustable sit-stand desks/work stations
- Avoidance of prolonged static standing, which may be as harmful as prolonged sitting
- Altering posture/light walking to alleviate possible musculoskeletal pain and fatigue as part of the adaptive process
- As well as encouraging staff to embrace other healthy behaviours, such as cutting down on drinking and smoking, eating a nutritious diet, and alleviating stress, employers should also warn their staff about the potential dangers of too much time spent sitting down either at work or at home
Of course, the last thing many of us want to hear is one more health recommendation about physical activity, especially when most of us don’t exercise enough as is. But, really, the recommendations to avoid extended sitting can be really easy to put into practice. You don’t get sweaty. You don’t need special shoes or clothes. And you don’t need to go anywhere to do it.
All you really need to do is take a stand from time to time.