I have an embarrassing confession to make. It’s about all those times I was preaching to you about the importance of daily exercise.
Wanna know where all that preaching was coming from? Well, it was coming from my couch where I was sitting, typing up a storm, with my feet up and laptop in lap.
And it would be fine if I had just sat there for an hour or two. But no. I recently estimated how many hours per day I spend sitting, and when I included three sit-down meals, lengthy sessions with nose stuck to the laptop, and the 90-Day-Fiance marathons, it came to roughly eight to nine hours.
Prolonged sitting has been associated with all kinds of health issues EVEN if you exercise daily and preach to other people about it. Your posture and musculoskeletal system suffer from being in one position for long stretches of time. You are not using very much energy, which is a problem for those of us who like to eat a lot. 😉 And – congruous with the use it or lose it rule – all your bodily systems get weaker from lack of action.
Not only do all of the above increase your risk of disease, but your activity levels impact mental health as well. The line between “mental” and “physical” can be pretty blurry. I’m thinking here about that lovely combo of nervous energy + insurmountable exhaustion. Sound familiar?
Anyway, since I happen to be in the solutions to problems business, I felt compelled to kick my own ass. So my New Year’s Resolution this year was to heal my Couch-Potato-itis. I wanted to figure out how to have an active lifestyle and quit sitting all day.
Wanna join me? If yes, here’s what I came up with.
How To Have An Active Lifestyle And Avoid Prolonged Sitting
1. Decide How Much Sitting Is Too Much For You
So how much sitting is too much? Well, it turns out that nobody knows for sure, as more research is needed.
But so far, researchers have studied both total sitting time per day as well as the length of individual sitting sessions.
I found one expert consensus statement published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine recommending that you start with two hours standing or light activity during the workday and then gradually progress to four hours per day.
As for the duration of each sitting session, one study found that those who sat for less than 30 minutes at a time had the lowest risk of death from all causes.
So based on these and a few other articles I stumbled upon online, I decided to set two goals for myself:
- No more than about four hours total sitting time per day
- Never sit for longer than about 30 minutes at a stretch
2. Include A Block of Moderate To Intense Exercise In Your Daily Schedule
You can roll your eyes at me, but I’m still going to take this opportunity – yet again – to preach about the importance of including exercise in your daily routine.
First of all, if you set aside a block of time for exercise every day, then that’s automatically one less hour per day of sitting.
And second, achieving the “not-sitting” goal will typically mean replacing the sitting with either standing or some kind of light activity. Which is great, but moderate to intense exercise has different benefits.
And we are greedy for all the benefits we can get, right? So to me, an active lifestyle entails both exercise + avoiding prolonged sitting.
3. Take Walking Breaks
Ok, so let’s get to the actual goals of sitting less and never sitting for more than 30 minutes in one session. One way to accomplish this is to make walking breaks a part of your routine. Here are some suggestions:
- Take a 10-minute walk mid-morning and mid-afternoon.
- Take a walk over your lunch break.
- Walk whenever you are talking on the phone (assuming the call doesn’t require taking notes or using the computer).
- See if your colleagues would be willing to replace some sit-down meetings with walking meetings.
Since my work doesn’t require phone calls and I don’t have colleagues (hallelujah!), I decided to just do a 15-minute walking break before lunch. When spring-time arrives, I’ll probably make the walks a bit longer, since it addresses another problem of mine, which is not nearly enough time spent outside. But as I’m writing this it’s January and pretty dreary outside, so I think baby steps are in order.
4. Update Your Desk Set-Up
If your job, like mine, requires using a computer, the biggest issue to resolve is how to get your work done without sitting. For this, there are two options:
You can simply replace some of your sitting time with standing time. To do this, you need either:
- A full-size adjustable height stand-up desk , which is the best choice if you need lots of room for a monitor, keyboard, notebooks etc. OR
- An adjustable laptop stand that you set up on top of your regular desk
II. MOVE IN PLACE
The other option is to replace some of your sitting time with moving in place. You can do this with any of the following:
- A treadmill with a desk attached. When I strike rich, I wanna buy this one.
- A treadmill that you place under your desk paired with an adjustable laptop stand.
- A mini-elliptical machine that you place under your desk paired with an adjustable laptop stand.
I decided to start with a combination of standing and using a mini-elliptical. I’m prone to lower back pain (probably from too much sitting!) and I’m pretty sure simply standing in place for hours on end would replace my sitting problems with standing problems.
After a few days of consistent use, I can report that I like the mini-elliptical for these reasons:
- It’s smooth and easy to use.
- It’s small enough to fit under my desk, so I can hide it when not in use.
- It’s not exactly light, but it’s light enough that I can move it around, like when I want to use it while watching TV and need to move it from my office to the living room.
- A surprise bonus: My kids like to use it.
I predict that eventually it’s going to get squeaky like my full-size elliptical, but I’m prepared to fix that with some oil.
5. Write It All Down
When you set a goal – any goal – coming up with a detailed plan for achieving said goal and writing it down will up your chances of success about a gazillion times.
Here’s the plan I ended up with after a couple of days of trial and error:
As you can see, I decided to be a bit flexible about my goal to NEVER sit for longer than a half hour. I have zero willpower at the end of the day and I decided it was okay to give myself that hour of vegging. Plus with bathroom trips, getting up to make tea, and breaking up kid fights, it’s not like I ever get through that hour without standing up at all.
Another thing I realized is that some tasks that require a steady hand are better performed either sitting or standing – like when I make images for Pinterest. But just regular typing and Internet searches are totally doable on the elliptical.
Overall though, I do prefer the elliptical to standing. My back and feet start bugging me after about a half hour of standing in place – so for that reason I like the variable schedule I came up with.
What about you? Do you sit too much? What is your favorite way to stay active? Let me know in the comments below! 🙂