In my first book, The Paleo Cure, I summarized a mountain of evidence suggesting that we sit far too much in the industrialized world.
Many of you may be working at home during the COVID-19 pandemic and find yourself sitting more throughout the day.
The average U.S. adult sits for about 6.5 hours per day. For teenagers, that number is eight hours per day!
Now, keep in mind that these are averages, and they are skewed by those that do manual labor, which requires standing and moving around.
If we were to focus on people who work in an office or other sedentary setting—which represents an increasing percentage of the world population—the average time that they sit is closer to 10 hours per day.
This is a huge problem, because research has shown that sitting too much:
- Wrecks our metabolic function
- Weakens our bones
- Harms our blood vessels
- Increases the risk of several chronic diseases
- Shortens our lifespan
Interestingly enough, it may be sitting itself—rather than inactivity—that is uniquely harmful.
A recent study of hunter–gatherers found that they relax and lounge about as much as we do in the industrialized world. However, instead of sitting in chairs as we do, they do a lot of squatting, which engages the leg muscles and burns calories.
So one of the simplest steps we can take to improve our health and longevity is to sit less.
The good news is that there are plenty of ways to do that—even if you’re an office jockey!
- Working at a standing desk. Many employers permit this now, and more will follow once they understand the potential benefits in terms of reduced absenteeism, lower healthcare costs, and higher productivity in their employees.
- Working at a treadmill desk. If you want to take a standing desk to the next level, and you work at home or have a progressive employer, try a treadmill desk. (I use one of these in my home office, and it has changed my life. Read this post for more info.)
- Walking or bicycling to work or elsewhere. This isn’t always possible, but with a little creativity, it often is. If you live too far away to walk or ride exclusively, consider driving part of the way and walking or cycling for the remainder.
- Taking a standing or walking break. Stand up for at least two minutes every hour. If possible, take a brief walk or do some light stretching. Even short breaks like this can make a big difference. If you have trouble remembering to do this, try setting an alarm on your phone each time you sit down again, or use an app like Time Out (Mac) or Workrave (Windows).
- Standing up at meetings. If you’re worried about what your colleagues might think, just tell them you have a bad back!
- Sitting more actively. Sitting inactively in a chair isn’t the only way to sit. Consider sitting on a Motion Stool or yoga ball for periods of time instead of a chair, or place an “active sitting disc” on your chair and sit on that. Both of these options will force you to make small postural adjustments while you’re sitting, which mitigates some of the harmful effects of being sedentary. These micro-movements can add up to a significant expenditure of calories throughout the day.
Remember, the best way to make a big change is to string a series of small changes together.
I suggest starting with just one of the modifications mentioned above. Once you’re doing that successfully, move on to the next one.
I hope this helps you to sit less and move more!
P.S. One of the other important factors that determines lasting success with behavior change is getting the right support. ADAPT-trained health coaches are trained in evidence-based modalities—like motivational interviewing, positive psychology, and goal setting and accountability—that are proven to help people change.
If this sounds like something of interest to you, enrollment for the fall cohort of our ADAPT Health Coach Training Program ends on September 30. Click here to learn more or to enroll now.