The human body is made to move, yet many of us spend the majority of our waking hours sitting—on the bus, in the car, in front of a computer screen. New research offers potent motivation to look carefully at your daily habits: a 14-year study of more than 100,000 adults conducted by the American Cancer Society linked sitting for more than six hours a day to increased risks of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, as well as earlier mortality from all causes. Other recent studies looking at the long-term health effects of sitting have come to a similar conclusion: sitting for long, unbroken periods is bad for your health, even if you get regular exercise.
The Australian federal government’s physical activity guidelines are all about exercise—30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity daily. However, the benefits of this exercise may be lost with sedentary workdays. “Our research and other recent studies show that sitting much of the rest of your day may negate some of the good effects of the exercise,” says Alpa Patel, lead researcher for the Cancer Society study.
Scientists don’t yet know exactly why parking your bottom in a seat for long periods is hazardous, but some research suggests that extended immobility may cause metabolic changes that can contribute to the development of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Lowering your risk is easy. To start with, spend less total time sitting and take active breaks. Try keeping your phone away from your computer so you have to get up to answer calls. Get up for drinks of water instead of filling a big bottle to last all day. Set time limits for surfing the internet and do active chores while you watch TV at night.
“Think about small changes you can make in your life—adding a few steps here and there—and you’ll find you easily reduce your sitting time,” says Patel.
Break up your sitting time by practising a half Sun Salutation or two a few times every day.
1. Urdhva Hastasana (Upward Salute)
2. Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend)
3. Ardha Uttanasana (Half Standing Forward Bend)
4. Tadasana (Mountain Pose)