You’re sitting at your desk, looking out the window at a beautiful, sunny day. You can’t help but think to yourself, ‘man, I’m wasting my life here!’ While you may be speaking figuratively, the fact is that all that sitting you do at your desk really could be taking precious time off your life expectancy.
Multiple scientific studies have found that the brain functions differently when we’re standing versus when we’re sitting. When we’re standing up or moving around, we store calories differently, our metabolism changes, and our brain in general functions more efficiently.
According to the American Cancer Society, sitting for longer than six hours per day can have a major impact on your health, upping your risk for everything from cancer to diabetes. This is independent of your habits when it comes to exercise, diet and smoking.
Despite this research, the average American sits for 13 hours a day—13!
Sitting all day doesn’t just affect you physically. It also takes a toll on your mental health. A study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine showed that women who sat for more than seven hours each day had a much higher risk of depression symptoms, even if they were regular exercisers.
So what can we do about this sitting epidemic? There are a few small changes you can incorporate into your daily work routine that can make a major difference on your overall health.
1. Walk or bike to work. If you live close enough to do so, turning your daily commute into a form of exercise is a wonderful way to reduce the time you spend sitting. If this isn’t possible, consider parking a block or two away from the office or getting off of the subway one stop early and walking the rest of the way. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, and walk to get lunch instead of having it delivered.
2. Move during your breaks. Instead of taking it easy at your desk or a restaurant, grab a coworker and go for a 30 minute walk around the office park. If breaks are few and far between, take a lap around the office at least once an hour to get your body moving.
3. Schedule walking meetings. If possible, take your meetings from the boardroom to the sidewalk, asking your colleague to join you for a walking meeting. If this isn’t possible, make it a rule to stand up when you take phone calls. All that time on the phone adds up over the course of the day—especially if you have frequent conference calls!
4. Keep some small dumbbells or exercise bands at your desk. Do a few small, short repetitions each hour to get in more movement throughout the day and break up all that sitting.
Beyond helping yourself, you could help your colleagues too by taking a stand for less sitting in the workplace. If you work in a progressive environment, inquire about the possibility of standing desks or even treadmill desks. Or, suggest that your weekly status meeting be moved from the conference room to the park.
If you feel like your desk job is taking an overwhelming toll on your physical or mental health, seek help from a trusted medical professional.