Tap your foot, wiggle in your chair, or go all out and take a quick walk to the water cooler or restroom. Little bursts of activity — even at a light to moderate level — are essential for your health.
We’ve talked about it here on the Share the Health blog before: many of us are meeting the government’s Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (which recommend a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity per week), but the vast majority spend only a small fraction of the day exercising. That aerobic activity is important, but if you spend more than three hours of your day sitting it has a negative impact on your health [Tweet this!].
Recent research out of Northwestern University confirms that you can be both physically active and too sedentary.
“I think some people assume, ‘If I’m getting my 30 to 40 minutes of physical activity a day, I’m doing what I need to do for my health,’” study first author Lynette L. Craft, PhD said. “Of course, exercise is very important and is associated with many positive health benefits, but negative health consequences are associated with prolonged sitting, and this study shows that just because you’re physically active doesn’t mean you’re sitting less.”
Why is all of this sedentary time so bad for you? Experts say your muscles effectively shut down after they haven’t been used in a while, making the body less sensitive to insulin, cutting off calorie burn and slowing the breakdown of certain blood fats (lowering “good” cholesterol). A 2008 study out of Australia found that people who took the most breaks from sedentary time also had a smaller waist size and a lower body mass index.
The solution to our increasingly sedentary nature is simple: move.
Regina Clark, RN with FMH ProMotion Fitness+ offers the following suggestions:
- The next time your phone rings, stand up to take the call. Bonus points if you stretch or walk in place!
- Instead of sending your message via email, get up and walk to your co-worker’s desk.
- Having a meeting? See if your co-workers are interested in walking or standing for at least part of the time. If it’s a long meeting that needs to be held around a conference table, suggest a break to stretch.
- When you’re watching TV at home, use commercial breaks to move:
- Get up and do some squats or pushups.
- Change the laundry.
- Go to the kitchen and get a glass of water.
Your goal should be to get up and move at least once every hour. Need a reminder? Set a timer (this can be particularly helpful at work, where it can be easy to lose track of time). Remember that the movement doesn’t need to be intense to be beneficial.