You probably know by now that sitting for long periods is a big health no-no. Not only can sitting make you fat, but in 2012, Australian researchers found that people who sit for more than 11 hours a day have a 40% increased risk of death from any cause, according to a study in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
More recently, a study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that people who spent most of the day on their butts had a 24% greater colon cancer risk—and that number shot up to 54% for people who clocked the most hours sitting in front of the TV. And the risks remained even for so-called “active couch potatoes”—people who work out but still spend most of their day off their feet. The study authors said this suggests that regular exercise can’t offset the risks of too much sitting.
So if sitting is so bad, why don’t we just stand all the time? While it’s important to get up and moving when you can, standing for an entire day isn’t good for you either.
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That’s what writer Dan Kois learned, according to a recent story for New York magazine. Kois tried standing 95% of the time for 30 days straight, and had cramps in his calves at bedtime and pain in his hips, heels, and legs—even after using cushioned insoles and standing on an anti-fatigue mat at work. The take-home message? The goal isn’t to make a complete switch from one to the other. As one University of Pittsburgh professor told Kois, jobs that require a lot of standing (like nursing or retail) are linked to their own set of health problems including varicose veins, lower-back pain, and increased risk of stroke.
When it comes down to it, you really need both to stay healthy. There are easy ways to incorporate standing into your daily routine for better health.
Here are some tips to break out of a mostly sedentary lifestyle:
Set an alarm
It seems silly, but you need to remind yourself to get up. Setting your phone alarm or using an app like BreakTime for Mac devices are simple ways to encourage more movement throughout the day. Even the scientists that Kois talked to for his article used this strategy to stand up for 10 minutes every hour. Plus, you won’t be able to ignore that loud ping on your smartphone or computer when the time comes.
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One activity you can certainly do while standing: talking on the phone. This is especially great for office dwellers who constantly get bogged down by calls or people who have lots of phone dates with friends and family. At work, you just need a long phone-to-ear cord or quality headset to ensure you get more mobile. Even taking a call standing will help your legs shift more naturally.
Walk whenever possible
You’d be surprised how many ways you can sneak walking into your daily routine. A quick walk after a meal can be a relaxing way to get your feet moving. After eating, the fat levels in your bloodstream are at their peak, so simply moving around post meal increases the activity of lipoprotein lipase, a gene that boosts your metabolism.
If you drive to work, park your car a few blocks away from the building, suggests Roshini Raj, M.D., Health‘s contributing medical editor. That way you can get your legs working before you even get through the door. Same goes for you train and subway riders. Get off a stop or two early, or take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator to add some extra steps to your day. Dr. Raj also recommends walking to get your lunch instead of ordering in. It’s that simple!
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Choose the right seat
The next time you go out for food or drinks, skip the table and try sitting at the bar. Seating yourself on the front third of a bar stool can help you maintain the S-shape in your spine and distribute your weight more evenly (that is, more weight supported by your feet and less by your butt). To mimic this position, called “perching,” spread your feet just wider than hip distance and gently roll your hips forward, arching your back slightly.
Ditch the chair
Summer is definitely the time for concerts, tailgates, and lazy days at the park. Next time, don’t haul a chair with you. Leaving your folding chairs at home will force you to get up more often while outdoors. Just have a blanket on hand to rest every so often, but don’t be afraid to stand the whole time either–better yet, go for a short walk while you’re up.
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Do stuff in person
Sometimes the best way to ask a question is face to face. Yes, it’s super easy to email, call, or IM someone at work. But does walking to your coworker’s desk really take that long? You may even get a faster response to a simple question this way. When it comes time to hash out a project, opt to chat with your colleague in person or even suggest taking a walk to the coffee machine. Both are great ways to get you two moving and working at the same time.
Create mini workstations
The idea here is to give your body the chance to rotate between different positions throughout the day. Start by creating an area at your desk where you can stand and work. A box or milk crate covered with fabric can be a great resting place for your laptop, or you can leave memos to read on a shelf at standing height. If you’re daring enough, you could even try a standing desk.