Don’t Just Sit There, Get Up (Periodically)!
A growing body of research is demonstrating the negative health impact of prolonged sitting. Disruption of posture and muscle balance aside, there is also evidence pointing to the contribution of periods of prolonged sitting to the progression of prevalent chronic diseases such as Cardiovascular Disease and Type II Diabetes.
For example, both Hypertension and Coronary Heart Disease have been associated with chronic endothelial cell disfunction. A recent study by Thosar et al. (3) found that dilation of the femoral artery declined significantly during three consecutive hours of sitting (indicating acute endothelial cell disfunction), but simply standing to walk for 5 minutes each hour negated the negative effect of sitting (as indicated by the maintenance of femoral arterial dilation).
Similarly, Dunstan et al. (1) examined the effects of prolonged sitting on postprandial blood glucose and insulin concentrations. They found that breaking up a 5-hour period of sitting by walking at a low OR moderate intensity for 2 minutes every 20 minutes produced 24-30% reductions in blood glucose and insulin concentrations compared to sitting uninterrupted for 5 consecutive hours following consumption of a high carbohydrate (75G) and fat (50G) beverage.
Evidence therefore suggests a need to get up and move! When the idea of sedentary behavior is considered, it is usually in the context of leisure time. Unfortunately, leisure time is typically a much smaller percentage of one’s day compared to time spent on the job. According to the New York Times (2), up to 80% of American jobs are sedentary and may therefore simulate similar conditions as described in the studies above.
Even if you have a sedentary job, unless you are chained to your desk, you have the power to negate the negative effects of prolonged sitting by getting up and performing some movements for a few minutes each hour. Here are some ideas:
- Walk for 2-5 minutes each hour. As the evidence above shows, short low intensity walking bouts each hour can reduce the risk of multiple chronic diseases. To take it up a notch, walk some stairs.
- Chair Squats. Stand up then immediately sit back down, repeat 10-15 times. Do this once per hour, potentially just before the hourly walk.
- Door Frame Chest Stretch. Using a door frame or wall, extend arm fully at shoulder level, place hand on door frame or wall, then twist away from hand slowly. Exhale as you do this, hold for a few seconds, then relax and inhale. Repeat for 5 deep breaths per side.
- Half Kneeling Work. Move your chair away from the desk and do some work from the half kneeling position (one foot down, one knee down). Aim for right angles in hip and knee joints. On the side with the knee down, contract your hip muscles to aid with stability. Stay as ‘tall’ as possible through torso. Stay in this position for 1 minute each side, then return to chair. Fold up a small towel to use as a knee pad if your floor is hard.
- Wall Sit. If you have access to a wall, perform a Wall Sit for 20-60 seconds- you can even read a report or a chart while doing this, so you won’t be slacking! As mentioned above, aim for right angles in the ankles, knees, and hips while holding this position. Keep your weight on your heels and keep some outward tension on your knees (statically force them out rather than letting them move toward each other). If you have a 5-15 pound object available, hold it against your chest during, or press in and out from the chest while keeping low back flat against the wall.
You don’t have to do all of those things each hour, but combine one with 2-5 minutes of walking each hour and you will be on your way to reversing the negative effects of prolonged sitting- not too mention burning some calories!
- Dunstan DW, BA Kingwell, and R Larsen. Breaking up prolonged sitting reduces postprandial glucose and insulin responses. Diabetes Care. 35(5): 976-83, 2012.
- Parker-Pope T. Less active at work, Americans have packed on pounds. New York Times, May 2011. https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/05/25/less-active-at-work-americans-have-packed-on-pounds/ Accessed 23 Feb 2018.
- Thosar SS, SL Bielko, KJ Mather, JD Johnston, and JP Wallace. Effect of prolonged sitting and breaks in sitting time on endothelial function. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 47(4): 843-849, 2015.