As a journalist, I spend most of the day sitting. Healthwise, I figured my daily breaks to run, take yoga or bike across town were enough to counter all of the hours spent immobile. Not so: A recent study involving almost 800,000 people and published in the journal Diabetologia found that those with the "highest sedentary behavior" had a 147 percent increase in their risk for cardiovascular disease, a 112 percent increase in their risk of developing diabetes and a 49 percent greater risk of dying prematurely -- even if they exercised regularly. Yikes!
"Too much sitting is distinct from too little exercise," says Sheri Colberg, Ph.D., a professor of exercise science at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. "So although you might think your physical activity is reducing your risk of certain health conditions, too much inactivity is actually cancelling that out." Here’s why: After an hour or more of sitting, the production of enzymes that burn fat in the body declines by as much as 90 percent. Extended sitting also slows your body’s ability to metabolize glucose and lowers good (HDL) cholesterol.
Another study published in Circulation, the journal of the American Heart Association, reported that a person’s chances of dying of cardiovascular disease spiked by 18 percent for every hour spent watching TV.
These are sobering statistics, but you don't have to do anything drastic like train for a marathon or give up binge watching Game of Thrones to improve your stats. You just need to stand up and move around more. No biggie! Here's how.
Set a timer every 30 minutes, then get up out of your chair and move. "Walk in place and down the halls, do simple stretches and wall push-ups," says Colberg. "If you normally eat lunch at your desk, put the plate somewhere else in your office so you have to keep getting up." If you’re on the phone or chatting face-to-face, do it on your feet.
A University of Western Sydney study done with a sample of over 63,000 men found that just standing for two minutes every half hour boosts metabolism enough to lower glucose levels. Ease into it by standing for an hour a day, then work your way up from there. If you wear heels, stash a pair of flats in your office or just go barefoot, says Colberg.
Before she got a treadmill desk, Renee Miller, a general manager at a Manhattan-based corporate communications company, was stuck seated at her desk or in meetings all day. Before and after work, she sat during a lengthy train commute -- two hours each way!
She solved her sitting dilemma by springing for the treadmill desk. "My initial goal was to walk one hour a day, which I did at about 1.5 miles per hour," she says. "I had to start out slow so I could adjust to reading, typing and talking on the phone while walking. Now, three months later, I walk an average of three hours a day at 2.5 miles per hour. The surprise benefit is that I no longer get that midday energy slump." Treadmill desks range in price from about $500 to $2,000, but check with your boss first before investing. You never know -- your company might be wiling to cover the cost.