Posts tagged wellness
A 2-Minute Walk May Counter the Harms of Sitting

by Gretchen Reynolds

With evidence mounting that sitting for long stretches of time is unhealthy, many of us naturally wonder how best to respond. Should we stand up, or is merely standing insufficient? Must we also stroll or jog or do jumping jacks?


A new study offers some helpful perspective, suggesting that even a few minutes per hour of moving instead of remaining in a chair might substantially reduce the harms of oversitting.

As most of us have heard by now, long bouts of sitting can increase someone’s risk for diabetes, heart disease, obesity, kidney problems and premature death. These risks remain elevated even if someone exercises but then spends most of the rest of his or her waking hours in a chair.

In a representative and sobering study being published next month in Diabetologia, scientists found that every hour that overweight adults spent watching television, which is a handy way to measure sitting time at home, increased their risk of becoming diabetic by 3.4 percent. Most of the participants were watching nearly three hours a day.

But despite such health concerns, simply advising people to abandon their chairs and stand all day is impractical. Many of us who have experimented with standing or treadmill desks have discovered that they can have their own deleterious impacts on typing accuracy, general productivity and our lower backs.

So what reasonable steps could and should people take throughout the day to reduce sitting time?

To help to answer that question, researchers at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City and other institutions recently turned to the immense trove of data available in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which annually asks a cross section of Americans about how they eat, exercise, feel and generally conduct their lives.

Recently, as part of the data collection process, some participants have begun wearing monitors that objectively track their movement patterns. (Otherwise, the data relies on people’s recall of activities, which can be unreliable.)

The researchers gathered monitor data for 3,626 adult men and women, most of whom reported being generally healthy at the start of the study period.

Using standard activity measurements, the researchers then divided each of these participant’s days into minutes spent sitting; participating in low-intensity activity (since the monitors couldn’t pick up changes in posture, but only in bodily movements, they couldn’t measure standing per se); engaging in light-intensity activities, such as strolling around a room; or doing moderate to intense activities, such as jogging.

Most of the participants spent most of each day sitting.

The scientists then checked death records for three or four years after the survey, to determine how many of the participants had passed away during that time.

They used the resulting numbers to statistically determine participants’ overall risk of premature death and what role sitting or not sitting had played in that risk, as well as the relative importance of what someone did instead of sitting.

In other words, the scientists wanted to see whether standing, walking or jogging in lieu of sitting was best at extending lifespans.

What they found was unexpected. A low-intensity activity like standing, by itself, had little effect on mortality risk. Those people in the study who spent a few minutes each hour engaged in such low-intensity activities did not show much if any decline in death risk, compared with those who sat the most.

But those who walked around after standing, replacing some of their sitting time with a light-intensity activity like strolling, gained a substantial benefit in terms of mortality risk.

In fact, if they replaced as little as two minutes of sitting each hour with gentle walking, they lowered their risk of premature death by about 33 percent, compared with people who sat almost nonstop.

The researchers found an additional reduction in mortality risk if people engaged in moderate exercise instead of sitting, although the numbers of respondents who jogged or leapt about instead of sitting was so small that statistical determinations were difficult.

Over all, the study’s findings are “encouraging,” said Dr. Srinivasan Beddhu, a professor of medicine at the University of Utah, who led the study. They are especially so since the benefits seem to be additive, he said. Someone who already is walking for two minutes per hour and now starts to walk two minutes more — displacing an additional two minutes of what had been sitting time — could reduce his or her risk of premature death even more than from walking two minutes alone.

This reduction in death risk is likely related to energy balance, Dr. Beddhu said. Strolling instead of sitting increases the number of calories that someone burns, potentially contributing to weight loss and other metabolic changes, which then affect mortality risk.

But because this study is observational, he said, it doesn’t prove that walking instead of sitting directly reduces death risk, only that the two are associated.

Still, the possible benefits of strolling more often around the office seem alluring and the risks slight, especially if you invite your boss to join you, highlighting your tender care for his or her well-being.

Originally published on, May 13, 2015.

The Myth [and Reality] Behind ‘Sitting Is the New Smoking’

by Amanda Stupi

imageThe evidence against sitting is piling up. Sitting is being linked to more and more health problems: obesity, Type 2 diabetes, a variety of cancers and cardiovascular disease, not to mention a shorter life span. There’s even a new axiom floating around, “Sitting is the new smoking.”

But unlike smoking, sitting isn’t a habit most of us can avoid. In many ways, the modern workplace is built around it. Research shows that these days less than 20 percent of jobs require moderate physical activity.

KQED’s Forum hosted a discussion about the health hazards of sitting with Dr. James Levine, author of “Get Up! Why Your Chair is Killing You and What You Can Do About It,” and Alan Hedge, a professor of design and environmental analysis and engineering. Here, culled from that conversation, are things that every person with a desk job should know about how to stay healthy.

1. Working Out Once a Day Is Not Enough

If you’re thinking that your gym workouts and the occasional 10-kilometer race are enough to fend off the ill effects of sitting, think again.

“Four large studies conducted in Australia and in the U.S. demonstrate that going to the gym at the end of the day sadly doesn’t quite offset the apparent harm of sitting all day long,” said Levine.

Instead, in addition to the gym workout, look for ways to incorporate movement throughout the day. This will help cut the body’s peaks “in blood sugar and triglycerides and fat by half,” said Levine.

2. Standing All Day Is Bad, Too

“The answer is not that sitting is bad, but that oversitting is bad. And that’s equally true for standing,” Hedge said.

While a standing desk is certainly a good step in reducing the amount of time you sit, standing eight hours a day has its own set of problems, including links to cardiovascular issues, varicose veins and lower back pain.

3. Variety Is Key

“The key here is to think about how do you build a more dynamic working and living lifestyle for yourself so that you’re never doing anything for too long a period of time,” said Hedge.

Instead of standing or sitting all day, design your workday to be sure “you’re mixing up your posture” and using different groups of muscles throughout the day.

One way to do this is to determine which tasks require sitting and which do not. Perhaps you can brainstorm while you walk,  clean your desk while standing, sit to write reports and stand for phone calls.

And definitely utilize mobile technologies. They can allow you to “do the work that you need to do, but not to have to do it in any one location,” said Hedge.

4. Remember the 3 S’s

Sit, Stand, Stretch. Those are the actions that compose Hedge’s “ideal work pattern.” His prescription calls for 20 minutes of sitting, then eight minutes of standing, followed by two minutes of moving and stretching.

5. Take a Break

Levine said that there is more than 20 years of research supporting the health benefits of taking breaks. A break once an hour is good, but “the optimal would be every 20 to 30 minutes,” he said. And don’t simply mentally switch gears. “Get up, move around and stretch.”

6. Remember Good Posture

Standing desks are a good development as long as one is standing correctly. “Our research shows that when people start to get tired they begin to lean on the desk,” said Hedge. It’s important to maintain good neck and wrist posture. Resources about good workplace posture and setting up a healthy work station can be found on the Cornell University Ergonomics Web.

7. Movement Begets Movement

“People who tend to sit more during their workday actually sit more during their leisure time, too,” said Levine. That fact becomes all the more important if desk workers are going home and watching TV on the couch.  Life expectancy decreases by 22 minutes for every hour spent watching television, according to Levine.

As bad as the news is for people with sedentary jobs, there is hope.

“There is huge variation in the amount of activity or sitting that people do,” Levine said. “Some people are naturally more active or have learned to be more active than others.” Perhaps those are the people who always volunteer to make the coffee runs.

Originally published on KQED News, December 6, 2014.