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Do You Have Sitting Disease?

Too much time sitting down may spell bad news for your health. Here are 11 solutions.

Beat Sitting Disease: 11 Simple Solutions

  • Get NEAT. Levine recommends studding your day with non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT). NEAT includes stretching, turning, and bending. Aim for 10 minutes of NEAT each hour. "When I speak to the patient who is battling with [a sedentary lifestyle], 'I can't afford the gym' is no longer a barrier," Levine says. "What I'm asking you to do doesn't cost anything. You integrate activity into your day, whether pacing around on the telephone, not using email, or taking the kids for a walk in the mall."
  • Think beyond your workout. Even if you exercise at lunch, you may still be sitting too much. "Getting one hour of exercise in the middle of the day is obviously going to be better than not doing anything, but that still leaves approximately seven hours of predominantly sitting during the workday," David Dunstan, PhD, tells WebMD in an email. "We have to have a whole-day approach to physical activity promotion," says Dunstan, who heads the physical activity laboratory in the division of metabolism and obesity at Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute in Melbourne, Australia. He led the study on TV time and the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.
  • Mix standing and sitting. Sitting constantly is unhealthy, but standing still for long stretches of time can cause problems, too, such as a bad back or sore feet. It's better to frequently shift between sitting and standing, Dunstan notes.
  • Take regular breaks. "Most people know that if they don't exercise, they'll gain weight, but they aren't motivated to become more active," says exercise physiologist Fabio Comana, spokesman for the American Council on Exercise in San Diego. Get yourself moving more often with small goals, he says. "Stretch out your entire body, all the muscles that are cramped. If you do it five or six times a day, you'll start to notice a difference."
  • Pretend it's 1985. Have a question for your co-worker down the hall? Don't shoot him an e-mail; walk to his cubicle and ask him face to face. Some companies have instituted email-free Fridays to get employees out of their chairs more often, Levine says.
  • Adopt new habits. Standing uses more muscles and burns more calories than sitting, so train yourself to stand whenever you talk on the telephone. Pace during staff meetings if your boss will allow it. Ask friends to go for a walk during lunch instead of chatting in the break room. Use the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Rearrange the office. Help your company encourage its employees to be more physically active without suggesting that they install treadmills at every workstation, Levine says. Start having walk-and-talk meetings with your co-workers rather than conference room meetings. Move trash cans out of cubicles to make people walk to throw out garbage. Relocate water coolers by windows, where people will want to congregate.
  • Embrace new technology. Telecommute from a park on a sunny day, or walk around outside while participating in a conference call. "Instead of tying people to their desks, technology is starting to release people from their desks," Levine says, noting the widespread use of text messaging, laptops, and cell phones with wireless Internet access. "The evolution of technology allows people to be far more mobile."
  • End your workday with a bang, not a whimper. Prolonged sitting at work can tire you out, making you zone out as 5 p.m. approaches, Comana says. "But if you take a brisk, 15-minute walk in the afternoon, you'll be far more productive in your last two hours. If you're worried that you don't have time for a walk, you may be surprised that you get your work done more quickly afterwards."
  • Rethink your commute. It's dangerous to try to exercise while you're driving, but if you take a bus or train to work, you can stand, clench, and relax your muscles or get off a stop early and walk several blocks. If mass transit isn't an option, find a distant parking spot so you walk for a few minutes before and after work, Dunstan says.
  • Watch more television. That is if you vow to be active when you watch. "It is not our objective at all to discourage people from watching TV," Levine says. Pull your dust-covered treadmill out of retirement, place it in front of the television, and only allow yourself to watch when you're walking. No exercise equipment? March in place or tidy the room while watching. Just don't be a couch potato. Research shows that the longer you sit watching television, the greater your waist circumference, and the higher your risk is of dying from cardiovascular disease, Dunstan says.


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Reviewed on November 22, 2012

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