How many hours per day do you spend sitting at your desk? As previously discussed in our post about standing desks, working Americans spend an average of six to 10 hours a day in a seated position, usually in front of a computer. In fact, whether they work or not, most Americans are quite sedentary; they spend most of their time sitting, and they walk fewer than 5,000 steps per day.
The sitting aspect seems to be particularly troublesome for people’s health. Research has shown that long periods of sitting, even for those who also exercise frequently, can have serious negative health impacts, including type 2 diabetes, cancer, dementia, heart disease, and a higher risk of dying.
Given the conflicting priorities of work, family, and other commitments, most Americans (80 percent) have trouble meeting the American Heart Association’s (AHA) recommendations for exercise and activity: at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity at least five days per week for a total of 150 minutes per week. As the AHA notes; however, something is always better than nothing. If you can’t do a full 30 minutes, make it 15. If you can’t do it five days a week, do it three.
A recent study even suggests small intervals—two minutes per hour—of light activity can improve overall health. The study followed 3,243 participants for three years and found that just two minutes per hour of light-intensity activity, like walking, made a significant difference in the participants’ long-term health, including a 33% lower risk of death.
Reducing sitting time can also have some immediate positive effects, like shaking off lethargy and avoiding back pain. When a person sits for an extended time, most of his/her weight rests on his/her sacrum. Over time, this compresses the vertebrae and leads to pain and discomfort. Similarly, most desk chairs keep users’ hips flexed at an angle of 90 degrees or less. After hours of sitting like this, the hip flexors can shorten temporarily; this can lead to low back pain. Getting up for a two-minute walk can let those bones and muscles relax and recuperate, and the increased blood flow can improve mood and alertness. It’s a win-win!