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5 simple ways to reduce sedentary time

Sitting even a little bit less can add healthy years to your life. Get started with these tips from an exercise specialist. 

Sedentary behaviours (activities you do while sitting) are bad for you.

Travis Saunders

Even if you exercise on a regular basis (which you should), the more time you spend in sedentary behaviour, the greater your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers.  

I’ve talked about the health impact of sedentary time in my last blog post, but today I’d like to focus on ways that you can make your life, and the life of your family, a bit less sedentary. 

  1.  Ask when you actually need to sit 

The average Canadian spends more than half of their waking hours sitting down. But much of our sitting is what I call “mindless sitting” — we don’t actually have to be sitting down, we just do it because it’s the default position. 

For example, why do people sit down to talk on the phone? You will perform just as well on your conference call if you are standing. Ditto for meetings — and why sit down for coffee, when you could go for a walking meeting instead? As a bonus, walking meetings may also boost creativity

So take a look at your day, and see what tasks could just as easily be done standing or walking. One word of caution, though: You should definitely sit down to eat, as eating while standing may lead to “mindless eating,” which is even worse than mindless sitting. So this is one part of your day where you don’t want to eliminate sitting time. 

 2. Look at your workspace 

Let’s say that, like me, you work at a computer all day. What to do then?

 Fortunately there are a number of options, and the prices for some have dropped considerably. These include everything from height-adjustable desks (which allow you to work while sitting or standing) to treadmill workstations (literally a treadmill with a desk across the front). 

 Research has just begun to look at the health impact of these types of workstations, but they do appear to reduce sitting time, and in the case of treadmill desks, they may also increase physical activity levels.  

 If you do decide to go with a more active workstation, be sure to set it up ergonomically (here are some tips) to avoid causing any muscle or back problems. And remember, you don’t need to be on your feet all the time — current public health guidelines from Britain suggest building up to two to four hours a day on your feet while at work, and avoiding too much time in any posture. 

 (Disclosure: I have received research funding and in-kind support from Stepscount and Ergotron, both companies that sell sit-stand desks). 

 3. Take frequent breaks 

Sometimes your work or play requires sitting down. When that is the case, try to take a quick break to stand or walk every 20-30 minutes. Research suggests that this can dramatically reduce the health impact of sitting.  

 There are lots of ways to break up your sitting. You can set a timer on your phone, download an app that will remind you to move, or send all of your printing down the hall, rather than the closest option. And if you are sitting down to watch TV, use the commercial breaks as an excuse to get up and walk around, which can lead to a surprising amount of activity

 4. Get screens out of bedrooms 

Aside from quitting smoking, taking all screens (TV, tablets, computers and smartphones) out of your bedroom is probably one of the best things you can do for your health. 

In addition to the heath impact of the screen itself (every hour of TV viewing after the age of 25 reduces your life expectancy by more than 20 minutes), the light that comes out of a screen disrupts your sleep hormones, making it more difficult to fall asleep. Sleep is also extremely important for health, and Canadians generally get too little sleep. 

 Not surprisingly, people with screens in their bedroom get less sleep, and more screen time, than people who don’t have screens in their bedrooms. This is doubly true for kids: there is no reason for a child to have a screen (including a smartphone) in their bedroom at night.   

 5. Cut the cable 

Screen time is bad for you, and especially bad for your kids. Current guidelines suggest that school-aged kids should get less than two hours a day of screen time, but even less is better (younger children should get even less screen time — preferably none at all).  

So look for ways to reduce screen time — maybe cancelling the cable, limiting everyone in the house to one TV show each night, or simply sending everyone outside. For tablets and smartphones, there are now apps that allow parents to limit the amount of time they can be used each day. Anything that reduces screen time is likely to be beneficial, and even moreso if it is replaced with some sort of physical activity. 

Those are my tips on five ways to reduce your sedentary time, and that of your family.  I’d love to hear your own tips and suggestions in the comments below. 

CORRECTION: The reference above to a study on TV viewing and life expectancy has been updated to more accurately describe the research results.





2 Responses

  1. Gladys

    I am not sure the statistic in point 4 is correct – from the study – “On average, every single hour of TV viewed after the age of 25 reduces the viewer’s life expectancy by 21.8 (95% UI: 0.3-44.7) min. This study is limited by the low precision with which the relationship between TV viewing time and mortality is currently known.”

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