Well, it’s a case of good news, bad news, people.
Bad news: Your 30-minute lunchtime workout isn’t enough to keep you healthy if you sit the rest of the day.
Good news: You don’t have to drastically change your lifestyle to counteract the negative effects of prolonged sitting.
Are you sitting too much?
Given common work and life situations, probably.
Sitting more than six hours a day is associated with increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, cancer and a higher risk of early death. Sitting in the same position for 20 minutes starts to inhibit your metabolism.
“Being sedentary, or sitting most of the day, negatively impacts our health in more ways than most people are aware of,” says Dr. Cindy Lin, a clinical associate professor of rehabilitation medicine at UW Medicine and associate director of clinical innovation for The Sports Institute at UW Medicine. “Physical inactivity in general is associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and certain types of cancer.”
The kicker is even if you exercise 30 minutes every day (which is a feat in and of itself), that workout isn’t enough to counteract the negative effects of prolonged sitting.
To protect your health, you want to add light movement throughout your day and change positions at least every 30 minutes.
Signs you’re sitting too much
Those aches and pains you’re feeling? Yep, those might be telling you it’s time to move.
“Motion is lotion for the joints,” Lin says. “Prolonged sitting can negatively impact joints and muscles as well as our overall health.”
Signs of sitting too much include stiff joints, tight hamstring muscles and low back pain — especially if the joints feel better with movement.
Easy ways to sit less and move more
Protecting your health doesn’t need to be grueling. Break up your day with moments of small, easy movements.
“Instead of a 30-minute workout, you can opt for multiple five or 10-minute movement breaks throughout the day,” Lin says.
These breaks may be bite-sized, but they pack a punch: they can improve heart health, protect against the negative effects of prolonged sitting and boost mood and energy levels.
Adding fitness snacks can be easy and fun. It’s a choose-your-own-health adventure, be it a few minutes to dance, walk, bicycle, jump rope, climb stairs, vacuum a room, unload laundry, do body weight exercises or try any activity that gets you moving and increases your heart rate.
If you find it hard to remember to take breaks or a fitness snack, drinking water will remind you to move because you will need to get up to go to the bathroom.
Not only does this keep you hydrated (yay), it forces you to stretch your legs during the day instead of falling into the trap of remaining seated for the entire workday.
Workout while you work
Or rather, incorporate movement into your workday, even if you need to be at a computer.
This can look like taking phone calls or off-video meetings while on a walk, using an under-desk seated cycle, opting for a standing desk or doing some at-your-desk exercises. Parking further away from the office or scheduling lunchtime walks with co-workers will also encourage you to move more.
Being healthy doesn’t have to feel hard. A little movement here and there can be a realistic, achievable and even fun way to care for yourself.