We live in a culture where being sedentary has become the new norm.
The average American sits in their car while driving to work, they sit in front of a computer all day, and then come home and sit in front of a tv to end the night.
While it may not sound like much, research is showing that prolonged sitting is extremely harmful to your health.
Thankfully, there is one strategy that you can begin implementing right now to combat your sedentary lifestyle.
It is so simple, you can do it right now, while you’re at work, with no equipment.
Today’s post is going to cover
– Shocking statistics regarding prolonged sitting and sedentary living
– One simple strategy to combat the effects of a sedentary lifestyle
– How to determine if you are sitting too much
– 8 easy ways to implement this strategy into your life
– How to start exercising if you have been sedentary for many years.
Let’s get started.
Although we are doctors and personal trainers, we are not your doctors. The content on this site is for informational purposes only and should not substitute the advice from your healthcare professional. All kinds of exercise and dietary activities are potentially dangerous, and those who do not seek counsel from the appropriate health care authority assume the liability of any damage or injury which may occur. Please read our full Disclaimer for more information. Also, this post may contain affiliate links: meaning we may receive a commission if you use them.
Okay, let’s get started.
The Simple Health Tactic You Need To Do To Combat Your Sedentary Lifestyle
So what is this secret strategy?
Get up from your seat, and get up often.
It’s that simple.
As we mentioned before, the vast majority of people spend a ridiculously large amount of time sitting down.
Just think about it for a second. Can you quantify how many hours a day you sit down? If you are like most people, then it is a lot!
Did you know that the average American sits for more than seven hours a day?
Shocking Statistics On Sedentary Living
According to the CDC exercise recommendations, the average adult should participate in moderate exercise for 150 minutes a week.
How many people actually come close to this number?
Less than 5% of adults participate in 30 minutes of activity each day, and more than 80% do not achieve the recommended aerobic and strength training recommendations.
What about children? Aren’t they active?
Only 1/3rd of kids are physically active on a daily basis, and they also average approximately 7 hours in front of a screen. Studies are also showing that kids are playing a lot fewer sports, and more kids are playing video games.
OK, so what?
How could sitting down and not being active actually be dangerous?
The Disastrous Effects of A Sedentary Lifestyle
We now understand that a sedentary lifestyle is extremely harmful to your health.
Under-activity is one of the leading causes of obesity and all of the negative consequences that come with it.
Some have even used the term “sitting disease” to describe its effects.
Doctors and other busy professionals aren’t immune. As a resident physician, it isn’t uncommon to spend numerous hours behind a computer documenting and going through patient charts.
Here are some of the effects of prolonged sitting
- Slows down your metabolism as your body consumes less energy from inactivity,
- Decreases circulation to your muscles, brain, and other organs as your muscles aren’t being engaged
- Forces your muscles into weakened, shortened, and contracted position leading to a gradual decline in your posture and
- Long-term bone demineralization
Studies have also linked sitting time with increased levels of cardiovascular risk, type 2 diabetes mellitus, and overall mortality.
This also translates directly to health care spending. Statistics are showing that people who are inactive pay $1500 more per year in health care costs than inactive individuals, and it accounts for ~2.4% of all health care spending on an annual basis.
But What If I Exercise Regularly?
Believe it or not, even if you exercise, it is likely that you still live a sedentary lifestyle.
Exercising for 30-60 minutes a day, several times a week, by itself, will not be enough to counteract the effects of prolonged sitting.
Have you heard of the 23 1/2 hour rule?
It basically states that regardless of what you do for one hour a day, if you spend the remaining 23 hours just lounging around, it’s just as bad as having a sedentary life.
In other words, 30 minutes of activity cannot negate 23.5 hours of inactivity.
It’s like consuming one apple a day, and then eating pizza the rest of the day and expect that your diet is healthy.
Exercise by itself will not keep you healthy.
We were not designed to sit around all day. We were meant to move.
- A sedentary lifestyle can increase your risk of diabetes.
- A sedentary lifestyle can increase your risk of heart disease.
- A sedentary lifestyle can increase your risk of depression.
- A sedentary lifestyle can increase your risk of osteoporosis.
Why not just combat it by decreasing your sitting time? It won’t cost you a thing.
How Much Sitting Is Too Much?
So this then begs the question, how much sitting is too much.
There is not an exact number of hours to determine what qualifies as “too much sitting.”
The goal is to decrease the number of consecutive hours of sitting around and not moving.
Do not go several hours without having gotten up to stretch your legs or take a quick 2-minute walk.
Instead, you should aim to accumulate at least 2-4 hours of movement a day (where you are standing, walking, shifting your weight, exercising, stretching etc).
If you are watching tv, get up stretch and take a few steps every time there is a commercial.
Even if you cannot get up (perhaps you are in an important meeting), then fidget around often and contract your muscles often.
The Sedentary Lifestyle Solution
Fortunately, there is one simple thing that you can do to combat the negative effects of sitting- get up and walk around often. The American Heart Association has made very reasonable guidelines that we should aim to take 10,000 steps a day.
Most people don’t come anywhere near this figure.
Walking is so underrated. Put simply, it is the easiest and most readily form of exercise that anyone and can perform on a regular basis.
In fact, even if you do not exercise, taking 10,000 steps a day could provide just as much, (and possibly more) health benefits than a basic gym routine would.
Many popular smartphones and other fitness gadgets have added step trackers to encourage their users to aim for this goal.
I personally use a Fitbit Alta to track my steps. You can even set hourly reminders to get up and take a few steps.
It also can track simple exercises such as walking, jogging, and cycling.
“Why does she have to be such an overachiever?”
10,000 steps a day is equivalent to approximately 5 miles.
Now, 10K is a lot of walking. For some of you, this figure may be too burdensome at first.
That is okay. Contrary to many other things in life, something is always better than nothing in the fitness world.
If you normally only take 4,000 steps a day, then slowly increase your step count by 500 steps and do that for one week.
The following week, aim to increase it to another 500 per day until you are consistently getting 5000 each day.
Keep going up in 500 step increments week to week until you get closer and closer to the goal. Perhaps 7500 is all you would need to start seeing great results.
It is also important to note that 10K is just an arbitrary number. Depending on your lifestyle, you may need more or less.
The point is, aiming to increase your step count means less time sitting, and more time being active!
8 Easy Ways to Get 10,000 Steps a Day
Ok, so now you’re convinced.
What are some simple ways you can increase the number of steps you take on a daily basis?
Here are 8 strategies that you can use to decrease the amount of consecutive sitting time and increase the number of steps you are taking.
1) Set an alarm on your phone to go off every hour reminding you to get up and take a 5 min break. Most smart watches or fitness trackers such as the Fitbit have this feature.
2) Get up and walk around every time you are talking on the phone
3) Get off the elevator 1-2 flights before your floor and walk the rest of the way
4) Never take the escalator
5) Drink more water to increase the number of times you have to go to the bathroom
6) Get a dog so that you can walk together
7) Get off the subway or bus one stop before your destination, or park in the back of the parking lot and walk the rest
8) Take the long scenic route home, taking at least 10 minutes to get home
Understand that you do not have to go all out.
In the realm of fitness, something is always better than nothing.
Taking 10 minutes at a time to increase your activity levels will help to combat the ill effects of sitting and being sedentary.
Come on, it won’t cost you a thing!
How To Start Exercising After Being Sedentary For Years
What if you want to start exercising but have not done so in years? Where do you start?
The first thing you need to do is to increase the amount of walking that you do as described above. This will strengthen your leg and core musculature, as well as improve your aerobic capacity.
Next, you must learn the fundamental movement patterns known as the functional exercises, and test to see if you are mobile enough to perform them.
You can check your mobility at How Flexible Are You?
If you have adequate mobility and you can safely perform one variation from each of the key functional exercises, then you can begin an exercise routine using either A) your bodyweight or B) the lightest weights you can find.
Given that your body has not exercised in years, it is important to begin slow, and progress gradually.
It is very easy to overdo it as a beginner and this can lead to intense soreness, injury, and frustration.
If you would like to use a pre-made template with all of these exercises programmed for you, be sure to check out The WCT Strength Template For Busy Professionals.
The workouts are designed for beginners who have little time to spend at the gym. As such, each training session can be completed in 35 minutes or less.
When Will You Combat Your Sedentary Lifestyle?
So there you have it. Get off your behind and start moving.
Even if you do not achieve 10,000 steps a day, constantly moving around/fidgeting can prevent the ill effects of under-activity by increasing circulation.
If you would like to learn more about exercising in addition to taking 10,000 steps a day, you can check out our series of training. It starts with the 3 Basic Principles Of Exercise You Need To Know Before Working Out.
Start using these tips today and start improving your health right now.
In a nutshell
– Most Americans sit for approximately 6-8 hrs a day
– Prolonged sitting decreases metabolism, worsens blood circulation and increases overall mortality secondary to chronic disease
– Getting up to move more often can prevent these ill effects
– 10K steps a day is doable! Even if you don’t reach this milestone daily, just move around constantly.
-Do not stay in the same position for prolonged periods of time.
Now we turn it over to you.
How many steps a day do you normally take?
Would you consider yourself to lead an active or a sedentary life?
How much walking would you be able to add to your day?
Comment below and let us know!
Alex Robles, MD, CPT / Brittany Robles, MD, MPH, CPT
Alex & Brittany Robles are physicians, NASM Certified Personal Trainers, and founders of The White Coat Trainer: a resource dedicated to improving the health and fitness of busy professionals using time-efficient strategies. Their advice has been featured in My Fitness Pal, Prevention, Livestrong, Reader’s Digest, Bustle, The Active Times, and more. Learn more about them here.