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Sitting Too Long Could Kill You

Try these five tips to get off your tush at work—and potentially add years to your life.

| March 28th, 2012
Sitting Too Long Could Kill You

Clear some space in your cubicle. You are going to want to get down and do some push-ups after reading this.

MORE: Undo Those Tight Hips

Published in Archives of Internal Medicine this week, a new study analyzed 200,000 people and found that prolonged time spent on our derrieres may contribute to an untimely demise, in part because it increases the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Specifically, researchers found that adults who sit for 11 or more hours a day (add up your driving time, office time and “Real Housewives” couch potato time) have a 40 percent increased risk of dying in the next three years compared with those who sit less than four hours a day.

Given the fact that the average adult spends a whopping 90 percent of their leisure time sitting down and less than half of us meet the minimum daily physical activity requirements set by the World Health Organization (150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise a week), this is definitely cause for alarm.

And those exercise minimums are not always easy to meet.

MORE: Take the 10,000 Steps a Day Challenge

“We know that we need to get 10,000 steps a day, according to the American Heart Association,” explained Beth Ricanati, M.D., YouBeauty Wellness Advisor. “If you’re sitting that long, it’s impossible to get that many steps a day.”

You might be thinking: “But I hit the gym every morning before work, so this doesn’t apply to me.” Sorry to say, but it does.

While working out regularly does give you better odds, it’s still not enough if you spend the better part of your day sitting (damn desk job!). While inactive people who sat the most had double the risk of dying within three years versus active people who sat the least, staying seated for that amount of time is dangerous regardless of your workout regimen.

So does that mean all of your hard-earned sweat in cycling classes and on the treadmill is worthless?

“It’s not quite so black and white,” notes Dr. Ricanati. “The hour at the gym is better than nothing. Get the hour.” Not only will you get the cardio benefits, but you’ll release stress and find that you’re more self-aware of your body during the rest of the day. “If you’re sitting most of the day, it’s really easy to be mindless across the board,” she added. And that can translate to a slew of unhealthy behaviors, such as poor nutritional choices.

On the good news front, you don’t have to quit your desk-bound day job if you want to keep your body healthy.

MORE: Easy Ways to Lower Your Heart Disease Risk

The study found that standing up and moving more during the day can reduce your chances of dying early from heart disease. So short of doing laps around the office or whipping out your best sun salutations during your weekly staff meeting, here are some practical tips on how to get moving while you work:

Get a pedometer. 10,000 steps is actually pretty difficult, notes Ricanati. “You have to work at it to get there,” she says. Even if you don’t clock in that amount, wearing a pedometer is a good thing because it keeps you conscious of how much physical activity you’re logging during the day. Strap on a pedometer and use it as an incentive to move more.

Sit on a medicine ball. This will help to strengthen your core because you have to actively work to sit on it, meaning your muscles in your stomach and back are engaged—unlike sitting in a chair. A medicine ball can also serve as a visual cue to remind you to move, according to Ricanati.

Take frequent breaks. Get up and move around throughout the day. Instead of emailing a co-worker, walk down the hall and talk to her in person. If you are meeting with two or three other people, have a walking meeting outdoors instead of sitting in a conference room. This nets you fresh air, exercise and probably better ideas. Another tip: Refill your water bottle frequently so you get moving and stay hydrated at the same time. And be sure to walk around either indoors or outdoors during your lunch break.

Stretch at your desk. Breaking into push-ups is a bit much for the office (unless you work in a gym). Instead, do some easy stretches for your arms, legs and back regularly during the day. “Simple stretches make you more aware,” says Ricanati. “If you’re mindful that you need to be moving, you will move more.”

MORE: Yoga Poses—At Your Desk

Walk to work. Okay, if you can’t walk all the way to the office, at least park farther away in the parking lot rather than aiming for that sweet spot up front. Better yet, if you’re taking public transportation, get off a stop early, advises Ricanati. You can also take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator.

“Whatever you can do to remain active during the day, do it,” she adds. “We’re now a society of sitting. We’ve created a lifestyle of being immobile so now we need to get creative about being mobile.”

Maybe those treadmill desks that we all snickered at originally aren’t such a bad idea after all.

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