Like other health recommendations, the research on the risks of sitting for too long is a bit conflicting. No matter what the latest research says, it is pretty much common sense that prolonged sitting is just not what our body is designed for and its a good idea to avoid it.
But is it enough to just get up and move during the day? Does a standing desk erase all that worry? How about wearing an activity monitor? Lets look at some of the research and see if we can come up with a way to know you are doing what you can to counteract the effects of the sedentary activities in your life.
This study published this month in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found the following:
For people who sat a lot (6-8 hours a day or more), replacing sitting with vigorous physical activity was better than replacing it with moderate activity; and replacing sitting with moderate activity or walking was better than replacing it with standing.
What does that mean?
Replacing sitting with standing? In this study, replacing sitting with standing did not reduce the risks. This study even found that people with occupations that required long periods of standing actually had a greater risk of heart disease then those who sat or those who did mixed activities. Every study has its limits but the bottom line is, standing and working is not necessarily better. If you fought for a standing desk at work, don’t ditch it yet. If changing your position while you work helps you feel better while working, that is a great thing. If standing and working just does not work for you, don’t feel guilty for sitting. There are other, more powerful options.
Do vigorous physical activity? The word vigorous can sometimes be mistaken for exercise that makes you feel tired, sweaty and sore. but that is not what vigorous physical activity means. The actual definition used in research is any activity that is six or more times the amount of effort as it takes to sit and rest. Examples would be running, walking up hill, fast cycling, aerobic dance or other activities of similar intensity level. The thing is, it’s all relative. These may feel more moderate for one person and impossible for someone else. Instead, if you want to add more vigorous activities, choose the level of an activity that challenges your breathing and your body at a challenging but still enjoyable level that you can sustain.
Do moderate physical activity? This study shows that moderate activity works to reduce risks. Moderate level activities are ones that are three to six times the amount of work for your body to sit and rest. They include walking, housecleaning, dancing, gardening. Again, it’s relative to how your body feels when you do that activity. Choose a level that takes your breathing to level where you notice your breathing, it but feels comfortable enough you could continue the activity for a while without stopping.
So how to you know if you are doing enough? Know that even if you can only do a few minutes of an activity to break up your stillness times, and do it consistently, you will probably counteract the effects of prolonged stillness.
But don’t take the advice from research or even my word for it. What does your body tell you when you have been still for an extended period of time? How much and what kind of movement makes it feel better? Chances are your body is telling you what it needs.
Keep moving, be well,