Sitting is unavoidable…but the threats to your health from it aren’t

Back view of a man sitting in his home office

You may be sitting while you read this. In fact, you probably are. One in four Americans spend eight hours of each day sitting. And it’s not good for their health.

“We spend far too much time sitting,” says Tyler Waclawski, a certified exercise physiologist for BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee. “Unfortunately, so much of our modern life is built around sitting. We sit in front of computers at work, we sit while we’re driving, we sit on the couch to watch TV after a long day at work.”

And too much sitting can be hazardous to your health. Here’s what you need to know about overcoming this health hazard.

The dangers of too much sitting

Tyler Waclawski: The average adult sits six to eight hours per day. And, we’ve been getting more sedentary as a population for decades now. Plus, Tennessee is one of the least active states in the U.S.

It might not seem like sitting would be so risky. But sitting for prolonged periods of time can lead to a long list of ailments, including:

  • back pain
  • high blood pressure
  • weight gain
  • increased stress and anxiety

Research also indicates that sedentary behavior—that is, a lot of sitting—raises the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, certain kinds of cancer, and even premature death.

There’s a solution to the sitting problem – moving. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, either. Simply walking can help. And you don’t even have to move that fast. A recent study found that people who moved just five minutes every half-hour at a leisurely pace experienced a 60% drop in blood sugar spikes after a meal. Walking has also been shown to lower your blood pressure. You might even find it easier to think more clearly, as taking regular walking breaks seems to improve blood flow to your brain. And all it takes to up the intensity is swing your arms or walk a little faster, and you might get even more benefits.

How to overcome the problem of too much sitting

Tyler Waclawski: The good news is that we can easily combat this problem. We just have to find ways to work movement and activity in our daily routines.

It might be easier to make a few changes than you think. In fact, you might already be doing them if you try to reach a certain number of steps each day. A few examples:

  • Park your car further away from your destination so you have walk further to get there.
  • Skip the elevator and take the stairs.
  • Ask your coworkers to have a walking meeting, instead of a sit-at-the-conference-table meeting.
  • Pace around the room when you’re talking on the phone.

A few other strategies to try:

  • Set a recurring reminder on your phone to alert you that it’s time to stand up and move.
  • Try a standing desk (or an adjustable desk lets you sit or stand as needed). Standing while you work might take some getting used to, but with a little time and patience, you may find that you like it.
  • Stand up and do stretches at different times during the day.
  • Plan walking breaks. Aim for five minutes of walking for every two hours of sitting.
  • Stand up, rather than sit, if you take a bus or train.
  • Set limits on sitting. If it’s too easy to spend the whole evening on the sofa and watching a screen, resolve to spend only a portion of that time sitting instead.
  • Try a new hobby that requires you to move more. Try gardening, dancing, pickleball, or whatever else catches your interest and requires that you spend more time on your feet.

When in doubt, just stand up. Any movement is good movement. It all adds up—the times that you stand, the steps that you take, the exercise that you do.

Stick to it

Tyler Waclawski: Life can be hectic, but there are always going to be some small pockets of time in every day that can be utilized to improve your health. Make the most of the time that you do have available, even if it’s just for a few minutes. You will feel better in the long run.

More from Tyler Waclawski on WellTuned.

Jennifer Larson

Jennifer Larson is Nashville-based writer and editor with nearly 20 years of experience. She specializes in health care and family issues.

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