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Published on September 17, 2015

grandpa exercising with grandkids

Move More, More Often: Too Much Sitting Can Be Hazardous to Your Health

Even if you’re eating right, exercising and otherwise taking care of your body, there could be one serious health risk that you’re overlooking: sitting too much.

In our “sitting-centric” society, you probably spend more time sitting than you might realize. Just consider how much time you spend sitting at a desk, in front of a computer or TV screen, or behind a steering wheel.

In fact, more than one half of an average person’s day is spent in a seated position. That much sitting can come with harmful health outcomes.

Sitting for prolonged periods of time increases your risk of developing serious health conditions and may shorten your lifespan. Research has shown that having a sedentary lifestyle increases the likelihood of cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and can even lead to an early death.

“Being sedentary interferes with the way the body metabolizes sugar,” said Maria Lao, MD, Avera Internal Medicine Specialist. “It also causes bone loss and increases the rate of depression. The reduction of muscle mass it results in reduces metabolism, promoting weight gain and obesity.”

If you think that your exercise routine counteracts all that sitting, that’s probably not the case. Even if you exercise 45 minutes, five days per week, if the rest of your day involves sitting, your lifestyle is considered sedentary.

“Exercising 30-45 minutes a day doesn’t completely offset the harm you’re doing by sitting most of the day,” said Laura Johnson, PA-C, Avera Physician’s Assistant.

Find small ways to move more throughout your day, whether it’s having a walking meeting with a coworker or standing while you talk on the phone. “Making a point of being active for one to two minutes every 30 minutes can prevent serious health conditions and can even prolong your life,” Lao said.

Even if you do have a desk-bound job, there are ways to bring more activity into your day. Think of creative ways to fit in movement, depending on your job and worksite, Johnson said. For example, get on your feet to work: stand when reading emails, or take a phone call and walk around.

The key is to move more, more often. Soon those small extra movements — like taking the stairs or walking over your lunch hour — will become a new set of healthy habits.

How to Move More During Your Day

  • Spend a third of your lunch hour walking
  • Walk on your breaks and while talking on the phone
  • Have a walk-and-talk meeting instead of a sitting meeting
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator
  • Park farther away
  • Walk before and after work
  • Replace watching TV with active hobbies
  • Be active during TV commercial breaks
  • Set a goal to limit your sitting time to less than two to three hours per day
  • Consider using a standing desk or treadmill desk at work

The Dangers of Inactivity

Continuous long episodes of inactivity increases the risk of diabetes by 91 percent, cancer risk by 13 percent, and cardiovascular disease risk by 14 percent. The risk of early death increases by 40 percent with a lifestyle of prolonged sitting. Source: Annals of Internal Medicine

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