How to counter the health risks of sitting at work all day

Don’t just sit there.
Don’t just sit there.
Image: REUTERS/Stephane Mahe
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Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Opt for fish or lean meats, poultry, eggs, or legumes. Get enough exercise. That’s the healthy-living advice that has been around for years. Yet even sticking to all that might not be enough to offset the consequences of being a desk potato, something most office workers are today.

Sedentary behavior—defined as sitting or lying down for extended periods of time—is the norm in many countries. And a growing body of research suggests it could be sending tens of thousands of people or more in each of them to an early grave every year.

Still, there are ways to minimize the health consequences of prolonged sitting. Get up and read Quartz’s guide below:

Work standing up

Replacing sitting with just two hours a day of standing has been associated with better health outcomes. A 2015 study in the European Heart Journal, for example, found it led to improved blood sugar and triglyceride levels. Investing in a standing desk—or getting your company to do so on your behalf—is one simple way to do this.

Standing desks don’t just help today’s workers focus—they were also popular with the likes of Leonardo da Vinci, Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, Thomas Jefferson, and other historical figures.

Take frequent breaks

If a standing desk isn’t an option, try taking breaks from sitting when you can. One 2014 Indiana University study found as little as a five-minute walk each hour offsets the negative effects of sitting for three hours or more.

Shorter breaks also help, whether that’s to walk or stand. Consider popping over more often to chat with a colleague—that proverbial “water cooler talk” might even help build stronger relationships at work.

Schedule in a lunch break

Forget eating at your desk. Get out of the office. Try to use some of the time for walking, the rest for chowing down on whatever is on the menu.

Rethink meetings

Walking and talking has long been a boardroom favorite when discussing vexing problems. And no wonder: There’s evidence it stimulates brainstorming. Conference calls can be a perfect opportunity to get up and pace around.

For smaller meetings, like a one-on-one, consider ditching the conference room altogether. Unless you need to be in front of your computer, there might be no harm in having a meeting on the move.

Stretch out more

For some of us, sitting down for hours a day is unavoidable. But stretching is convenient, boosts flexibility, and it’s easily within reach. Many exercises that cover your muscles and joints can be done while sitting—whether that’s the overhead reach, torso stretch, or hamstrings stretch.