Sitting All Day? Why It’s Important to Get Up and Move Around

“If you have poor posture with shoulders forward, a curve in your spine, and collapsed hips, your body is literally healing the micro-tears and micro-trauma into this poor position.” – Jeff Kuhland, How You’re Sabotaging Your Posture and Your Time in the Gym

Scary, isn’t it? There’s more: the term ‘sedentary’ is defined by the amount of time an individual spends walking each day, and when translated into number of steps taken, the technical definition of sedentary is less than 5,000 steps per day. According to a new study that uses cell phone data to analyze the average number of steps taken per day by country, the United States ranks 30th in the world with an average daily step count of 4,774. Furthermore, the United States has a high level of activity inequality (the gap between active and inactive people in a country), which is an even greater indicator of a country’s obesity level than step count.  

Unfortunately, not many people have the luxury of working a job that allows them to constantly be moving throughout the day. Countless studies have revealed the negative effects of sitting at a desk all day, such as increased risk of injury, muscle degeneration, weight gain, back and neck pain, but even more disturbing is the fact that exercising just once a day does very little to negate the effects of being sedentary for hours at a time. A study conducted in 2013 by Diabetologia found that desk employees who exercised were just as much at risk for health issues as workers who did not exercise at all. Why is this?

When individuals remain inactive for long periods of time, gravity starts to take a toll on their posture, flexibility, mobility, and joint health. In an article titled Sitting at Your Desk is Eating Your Muscles by strength and conditioning coach Doug Dupont, he states the following: “Probably the biggest single problem from sitting all day that I see as a coach is back pain and signs of deteriorating spine health.” This occurs because the hip muscles begin to tighten as a result of lack of movement while sitting for long periods of time. When you work out after sitting all day, your hips’ natural mobility is limited by muscle tightness so the movement that needs to occur through the hips is actually initiated from the spine, resulting in back pain. This is a frightening reality for many people and the solution is actually relatively simple.

Experts suggest that individuals should stand five minutes for every thirty minutes of sitting, and if they can sneak in a stretch here and there, even better. Here are some simple movements that you can complete in your office or cubicle space:

  • Squat to your office chair 10-15 times
  • Hold a plank for 30-45 sec under your desk
  • Lunge down the hallway to the break room (and count how many weird looks you get from your co-workers)
  • Do calf raises as you pour yourself a cup of coffee
  • Walk around your office when taking a phone call

These are just a few of the exercises that can be done easily and somewhat inconspicuously at the office.

The importance of moving cannot be understated. Making time for exercise is a great first step to preventing injuries and health issues, but making time to move throughout the day is what really makes a difference.