Sitting All Day Is Killing You (Even If You’re an Exercise Addict)

This morning yet another study declaring the dangers of sitting hit my news feed.

A Toronto-based research team analyzed 47 studies tracking how many hours a day people spent sitting versus how much they exercised. The results: a strong correlation between those who sit most days and the likelihood of developing heart disease, cancer and diabetes. This correlation held true even for those who regularly exercise 30 or more minutes a day—meaning that all those squats you do a the gym could mean, well, squat, if you spend most of your days glued to a chair.

We’ve known for a while that sitting too much is deadly, but if you use a computer for your job, staying seated for hours is a work requirement. Fortunately, there are ways you can combat your forced sedentary lifestyle.


Get Up

Yep, this one’s obvious: get out of your chair. The authors of the Toronto study recommend we sit at most four to five hours each day. To incorporate more activity, try standing two to three minutes every half hour (which can add up to 40-60 minutes of standing in a typical work day).

Other ideas include standing during meetings and conference calls, talking in person rather than sending an email, and drinking more water (all those treks to the water cooler and bathroom add up).


Tech Can Help


Of course, if you’re like me, you might have lofty intentions to stand more, but then never remember. Naturally, there are apps for that. iPhone users can try Stand Up! by Raised Square, and for Android, there’s Twenty by mtmurdock.

If you’d prefer a desktop app, Workrave (available on Linux and Windows) was originally designed to prevent repetitive stress injuries but works equally well as a reminder to get up. Despite its somewhat outdated interface, the app is fully configurable and surprisingly effective, with options for break duration and restricting how often you can postpone your breaks. Bonus: the popup reminders are impossible to ignore.


Try a Standing Desk

Image courtesy of John M. on Flickr.
Image courtesy of John M. via Flickr.

Sure, you want to get up more, but what if you’re so swamped you can’t even spare that 4-6 minutes each hour? Then scrap your chair and try standing full-time.

Lifehacker has a great roundup of the best standing desks, and even Ikea, the perennial favorite for college students and 20-somethings, has joined in with their version.

Or if you want to keep it super cheap, you can try what I did: I set up my laptop on a riser with an external keyboard and mouse on my kitchen counter.

If you do go standing, it’s best to ramp up slowly, adding 15-20 minutes of standing time per day, until you’re sedentary no more than five hours daily.


Stretch It Out

All those hours spent doing next to nothing create tight, painful muscles and strength imbalances, something I’ve been experiencing firsthand since I now work at home with even more temptations for sedentary living.

The fastest way to ease your muscles is with a foam roller. This 4-minute video shows you how to target those tight hip and lower back muscles.

For a super transportable option, my physical therapist swears by a squash ball. Place a squash or lacrosse ball between your back and a wall, and roll out those tight spots.

self massage squash ball


Cover image courtesy of Rochelle Hartman.

Contact Me

alison (at)