There’s no denying that prolonged sitting is an unavoidable reality for most professionals. Over the course of the pandemic, many who previously worked outside their homes joined the remote workforce. Unfortunately, more time at home generally means more sedentary time.
Whether you work from home or not, if your typical day includes multiple hours sitting, then it’s vital that you move throughout the day to avoid the negative health implications of being sedentary. In addition to being a risk factor for cardiovascular diseases and cancer,1 excessive sitting is linked to depression,2 chronic pain, and increased risk of physical injury. That’s why it’s important to become aware of your sitting habits and do what you can to change them.
What’s more, breaking up long periods of sitting with just a few bouts of exercise not only helps you avoid disease risks, it can also actually boost your overall health and fitness. In fact, a recent study3 found that adding just 11 minutes of movement to your day can increase your lifespan and increasing to 35 minutes of daily exercise had the most significant increase in lifespan.
So, what if, over the course of an 8-hour day, you broke up any periods of sitting by getting up and moving for just three minutes every hour? That’s 24 minutes of exercise daily!
Add a 12-minute walk before or after work, and you would not only be well over World Health Organization’s recommended 30 minutes of exercise per day but also the study’s 35-minute threshold for increasing your lifespan.3
If you’re unsure of what to do during your 3-minute movement periods during the day, then read on for some ideas.
If you’re new to exercise, then consult your health professional before beginning a new routine. Remember that it’s important to stay properly hydrated all day long, especially as you integrate exercise. That’s because losing as little as just two percent of your body weight due to fluid loss can significantly impact physical and mental performance. Keep a bottle of water nearby or add a low-sugar, high-quality electrolyte replacement supplement into the mix.
Get up. Sit down. Repeat.
As mentioned, it’s important to get up from your chair at least once an hour. Since you’re trying to focus on staying active for at least three minutes, after you get up one of the simplest ways to do so is by making the act of getting out of your chair and sitting back down into an exercise.
Coaches and trainers call this a “box squat.” From standing in front of your office chair, slowly sit down, making contact with the chair seat without putting your full weight on it. Then drive through your feet, legs, and hips to stand back up. Repeat this movement, at your own pace, for the full three minutes. If you’re feeling up to it, then after a minute or two, you can progress to body-weight squats without the chair for the remainder of the time.
Caution: If your chair has wheels, then lock them before performing box squats.
Get your heart pumping in the frontal plane
Your body is designed to move through three planes of motion: sagittal (front-to-back), transverse (rotating), and frontal (side-to-side), so it’s important to exercise in all three. Think about it. While sitting at a desk, you’re not doing very much side-to-side movement. Everything tends to be right in front of you.
Jumping jacks are a simple-yet-effective side-to-side movement that gets your heart pumping. That said, I’m not recommending that you hop out of your chair every hour and do jumping jacks. By virtue of their name, they include jumping. To avoid the potential for injury, it’s important to prepare your body for any type of higher impact activity after prolonged sitting. Prep time counts toward your three minutes, so spend a minute doing some side bends, lateral lunges, and jogging in place before moving into jumping jacks. If jumping is too high-impact for you, then modify with alternating side steps rather than jumps.
Elevate your health and mood with a dance break
It’s common for both mental and physical energy to wane in the afternoon after lunch. Instead of reaching for that extra cup of coffee or energy drink, take an invigorating dance break to one of your favorite beats.
Most songs average 3-4 minutes, so you’ll more than cover your hourly movement quota. No special directions. Simply turn on some feel-good jam and let your body move to the music.
Practice standing meetings with some movement
Now that everyone’s discovered Zoom, it’s rare to have a workday without at least one virtual meeting. During those meetings, position your screen on a higher surface, like a kitchen island, so you can stand up. Then spend several minutes softly marching in place or shifting your weight from one foot to the other to work on your balance.
If you have regular daily meetings with people you know well, then consider asking if they’d like to institute a movement break. Think of it like the seventh-inning stretch of a baseball game. Meeting participants can even take turns leading the stretch.
Build strength with good old-fashioned push-ups
There’s a reason the push-up has remained a staple exercise for as long as anyone can remember. You won’t find many other singular exercises that build both upper body and core strength like push-ups can. Although challenging, there are easy modifications to make push-ups accessible for most anyone.
Traditional push-ups are done on the floor from a plank position with your legs straight behind you and wrists under your shoulders. Bend your arms and stabilize your core to lower your body almost to the floor and then straighten your arms to push back up. To cover three minutes, do as many pushups as you can with good form for 20 seconds and then rest for ten seconds. Repeat through six rounds. To modify, you can put your knees on the floor or elevate your hands on a stair or chair seat. You can also do plank holds instead.
Use several minutes to fix your posture and prevent pain
Although you’ve been moving every hour, at the end of the workday it’s nice to spend several minutes proactively recovering from sitting in front of a screen.
Focus on moves that open up and unwind that slumped-over posture we tend to take in front of a computer and when looking down at our phones. Do gentle chest and back stretches and twists. Remember the planes of motion mentioned earlier? Twisting takes place in the transverse plane, another plane we don’t often move in at our desks.
Watch this video for five ways you can move to counteract the impact of sitting.
Joint pain is a common side effect of too much sitting. In addition to proactive movement to keep joints healthy, supplement with Thorne’s Meriva to support relief from the overuse of muscles and joints, as well as post-exercise soreness.*
Don’t forget to walk
Walking is one of the most accessible, total-body, fat-burning exercises available. Every day, take at least one 10-15 minute walk outside, where you can hopefully also get some vitamin D-producing sunshine. If weather or environment are obstacles to walking, then consider this 10-minute at-home, bodyweight workout as an alternative, and get some extra sunshine vitamin support by adding a high-quality vitamin D supplement to your daily routine.
With 24 minutes of the movements above sprinkled throughout your day, adding even a 6-minute walk will get you to the 30-minute mark for daily exercise. After only one week of practicing this plan, you should definitely notice a boost in your overall health and fitness!
- Gilchrist SC, Howard VJ, Akinyemiju T, et al. Association of sedentary behavior with cancer mortality in middle-aged and older US adults. JAMA Oncol. 2020;6(8):1210–1217.
- Zhai L, Zhang Y, Zhang D. Sedentary behaviour and the risk of depression: a meta-analysis. Br J Sports Med 2015;49:705-709.
- Ekelund U, Tarp J, Fagerland MW, et al. Joint associations of accelerometer-measured physical activity and sedentary time with all-cause mortality: a harmonised meta-analysis in more than 44 000 middle-aged and older individuals. Br J Sports Med2020;54:1499-1506.