Written by Janelle Paulson under the direction and review of Nikki Prosch.
The recommended amount of physical activity for adults is 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week or 75 minutes of high-intensity physical activity per week. But what should a person do for the other 6,720 waking minutes of the week? Unfortunately, many people spend those minutes in sedentary behavior.
What is sedentary behavior?
Sedentary behavior is defined as any waking activity with an energy expenditure of less than 1.5 metabolic equivalents in a sitting or reclining posture1. In other words, sedentary behavior is time that is spent sitting or lying down. Oftentimes sedentary behavior occurs when a person is working at a desk, driving, watching TV, playing videogames, and reading. Think about it, how many hours do you spend sitting each day? You drive to work, sit at a desk, eat sitting, drive home sitting, and maybe spend your leisure time sitting as well. This time may add up to 10, 11 or even more hours of your 24-hour day.
What’s the big deal?
You spend a lot of time sedentary, but you also get ythe recommends amount of physical activity each week – what’s the big deal? Well, research shows that uou may still be endangering your health with the high amount of sedentary time. In a recent study, data showed positive associations between sedentary behavior and cardiovascular disease independent of exercise2. That means that even though the participants in the study engaged in regular physical activity, they were more likely to have higher health risks such as cardiovascular disease if they engaged in sedentary behavior. Multiple other studies have found associations between sedentary activity and decreased health over time, independent of factors such as body weight, diet, and physical activity1.
In other words, regardless of a body weight, diet, or physical activity habits, the more sedentary activity a person engages in, the more likely that person’s health is to decrease. Therefore, for disease prevention and optimal health, it is important to not only meet the current physical activity recommendations of 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per-week, but also to limit the total time spent sedentary throughout the day.
What should you do about it?
Many people may feel frustrated because of jobs that force them to stay sitting for long hours during the day. If you are one of those people, don’t get discouraged! There are some simple things you can do to reduce the amount of your sedentary time throughout the day. Simply standing up or walking more throughout the day activates more muscles in the body and increases a person’s energy expenditure.
Try these simple tips to reduce your sedentary activity each day:
- Instead of sitting for multiple hours working on the same project, make it a point to take a short break every hour or half hour and walk around.
- Stand up or stretch during the commercials of your TV shows.
- Get a smaller water bottle. That way you will have to walk to the water fountain more often to fill it up.
- Use the bathroom on a different side of the building or on a different floor.
- Take time to stretch your muscles for a few minutes various times throughout the day.
- Walk to your coworker’s office instead of sending an email.
- Stand up when you are on the phone.
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
- Use an exercise ball for a chair. This will activate your core and allow you to bounce around.
- Get a standing desk.
- Park farther away.
- Set a timer when you plan to be sedentary so you remember to stand up every hour– spend only one hour watching TV or using the computer.
- Invest in a smart watch or pedometer that can track how many steps you’ve taken throughout the day. You can set goals for yourself, and you will be able to see if you’ve spent too much time sitting, or if you’re on track for the day. Some will even buzz to remind you to stand up every hour.
- Park your car farther from your building.
- Don’t use your remote while watching TV. Instead, get up to change channels or adjust volume.
- If possible, walk or bike to work.
Instead of sitting, sedentary time should be limited and replaced with light to moderate physical activity each day. This will in turn increase an individual’s total caloric expenditure, and may in fact improve an individual’s health. It is important to remember that these findings do not diminish the importance of regular exercise each day; the key is to sit less and move more!
- SBRN. (2017). What is Sedentary Behavior?
- Fenton, S. M., van Zanten, J. V., Kitas, G. D., Duda, J. L., Rouse, P. C., Chen-an, Y., & Metsios, G. S. (2017). Sedentary behaviour is associated with increased long-term cardiovascular risk in patients with rheumatoid arthritis independently of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity. BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders, 181-12. doi:10.1186/s12891-017-1473-9