Health Advocate Blog

Reducing Sedentary Behavior

Have you ever thought about how much time during the day you spend sitting? We sit while we drive to work, then we arrive at work to sit again, just to come home and sit again for dinner, and yet again to unwind before the cycle repeats the next day. Have you considered what the health impacts are of sitting so often? Even if you do spend time exercising, being sedentary for the large majority of the day still has negative consequences on your health.

What Happens as You Sit

  • When you sit, your entire body slows down. Your muscles become inactive, so they burn fewer calories. Inactivity causes your blood circulation to slow, resulting in a buildup of fatty acids. Decreased circulation results in less blood and oxygen for your brain, which may lower your mental capacity. Rather than being dispersed through your body, your blood and fluids pool in your legs.
  • Your muscles begin to weaken. Sitting requires less of your abdominal muscles, especially if you don’t sit up straight. As a result, your abdominal muscles can weaken from being unused. Your hip flexors, the important muscles in your hips for balance, may become smaller and tighter. With limited flexibility in your hip flexors, you may lose your range of motion as well as shorten your stride. Prolonged sitting may affect your stability since your glutes, or the muscles in your rear, do not move at all while sedentary.
  • Your organs may be impaired. Without proper circulation, your heart does not pump sufficiently. As a result, your arterial walls may thicken. Your heart helps to pump oxygen throughout your body, which in turns helps to transport nutrients to your organs. Being sedentary may reduce the amount of oxygen and nutrients sent to your organs. Sedentary behavior may also cause your pancreas to be overstimulated, resulting in your glucose levels building rather than being used to fuel your body.
  • Your bones are weakened. With little activity, your bones do not maintain the same density and level of strength, especially if you do not sit up straight. Slouching causes your shoulders to become overextended and may result in curvature of the spine. Similar to your organs, your spinal disks don’t receive blood and nutrients while sedentary, so they may begin to harden. This may result in damage to your vertebrae.

The Big Picture

The cumulative health effects of sitting too much may result in high blood pressure, elevated levels of cholesterol and glucose, excess storage of abdominal fat, and may increase the likelihood of developing blood clots and certain types of cancer.

For an illustration of the negative effects of being sedentary, check out this article:  The Health Hazards of Sitting

Try these tips to reduce sedentary behavior at work:

  • Get up to relay a message to a co-worker rather than send an email.
  • Stand while talking on the phone.
  • Walk the longer route to the bathroom or break room.
  • Set a reminder each hour to stand in place, stretch or take a quick walk around the office.
  • Eat your lunch standing up.
  • Walk for a portion of your lunch or breaks.
  • Park as far away from the building as you can.
  • Pick up the pace while walking to meetings.
  • Take the stairs rather than the elevator.

Try these tips to reduce sedentary behavior at home:

  • Stand the entire time you wait for your meal to finish cooking.
  • Talk a walk after dinner.
  • Use commercial breaks as exercise breaks.
  • Sit on a stability ball rather than the couch.
  • Get up and stretch after reading a chapter of a book.
  • Stand while playing video games.
  • Perform light exercises while cooking dinner.

Reducing sedentary behavior is just as important as getting regular exercise! If you are a Health Advocate member with access to our Wellness Coaching program, connect with a Wellness Coach for additional tips on reducing sedentary behavior and increasing your fitness.

For more information:

Click here for exercises you can do at work

Click here for exercises you can do while cooking

And remember, always check with your doctor before starting a new exercise routine.