You work 8 hours at a desk job, then hit the gym after work a couple times a week. If this sounds familiar, you just may be an “active couch potato” — a term that refers to people who get their recommended physical activity, but spend a lot of time sitting, usually because they have sedentary jobs.
Matthew P. Buman, PhD, and associate professor of exercise science at Arizona State University says, “Evidence has emerged that sitting does have an independent risk on many health outcomes,” he says. This includes a higher risk for diabetes, a premature death risk and musculoskeletal problems. What’s interesting is the risk may be independent of how much exercise you get outside of sitting all day at work. “People who sit for long periods of time, defined as sitting for 30–60 minutes without stopping, may be at greater risk for a poor health outcome,” Buman says.
A Lancet study from last year looked at a million people, trying to clarify this risk. “They found that if you are an avid exerciser, the risk for premature death because of too much sitting is quite low,” Buman says. He defines avid as double the 150 minutes/week recommendation, so 300 minutes a week, or almost an hour a day. “But even moderate exercisers have an increased risk. And if you don’t exercise at all, you definitely have a risk.”
HOW TO SIT LESS AT WORK
There is an opportunity to reduce how much we sit, even if you run to work every morning. The most harmful type of sitting is the prolonged type, like a cross-country airplane ride. Getting up every hour or so may help reduce your risk of premature death. Here are some tips:
• Use a sit/stand desk, which allows you to work sitting or standing. “These types of desks have shown some results in studies. Standing 70 minutes per eight-hour workday may have an impact on overall health,” Buman says.
• Set reminders on your phone to get up and move around at regular intervals. “It may seem like wasted time to take a lap around the office, but it will make you more productive in the end,” he advises.
• Take public transportation. “Research shows that people who take public transportation tend to sit less. They may be sitting on the bus, but often have to walk to and from the bus or train.”
CREATE A PIE CHART
One-third of the time is sleep, that still leaves 2/3 of your day. Of those 16 hours, exercise may only represent a tiny sliver. “If you think about the whole day, the period you consider opportunity for exercise is relatively small. You get in 30 minutes to an hour, but what about rest of day?” Buman says. It doesn’t necessarily mean exercising more. Rather, it’s about sitting less during the rest of the day, he says. “By moving the dial a little bit, we may be making an impact on our health.” Try to take a lap to the water cooler every hour, and perhaps take the long way back just to get in a few extra steps. It might just make you live longer.