We all know that sitting too much is bad for our health, but just how many hours do we spend sitting each day? A recent study says the answer, for many of us, is more than we should.
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The study looked at data on 5,923 adults who took part in a national survey.
“The figures were pretty staggering,” says family medicine physician Donald Ford, MD, who did not take part in the study. “One in four people sit more than eight hours a day. Four in ten are physically inactive. And one in 10 are both — they sit for more than eight hours, and they’re physically inactive.”
Researchers found that the highest percentage of adults reported sitting for somewhere between six and eight hours a day, but also said they were inactive.
The smallest percentage of people (less than 3%) said they sat less than four hours per day and got sufficient exercise throughout the week. (How much is sufficient? That’s defined as at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate to intense exercise per week.)
High amounts of sedentary behavior and low levels of physical activity have been linked to increased death risk, as well as several chronic diseases.
There are plenty of people who work sedentary jobs. You might sit in front of a computer screen or on a phone all day. But Dr. Ford says it’s important to find ways to be physically active otherwise.
Look for ways to get in small breaks during the work day. There are all sorts of opportunities — you just have to look for them.
For example, if you have a long hallway at work, make plans to walk up and down a little more, he suggests. Or park further from the building, and skip the elevator in favor of the stairs.
“You want to have a safe, protected walking space at work,” says Dr. Ford. “If they don’t have it, you should ask for it as an employee … If you have a five-minute break or a half-hour lunch, you can take some of that time and you can become active.”
Dr. Ford points out that the real danger is when people sit all day at work, and then go home and don’t exercise.
And sometimes just adding up steps isn’t enough, if you’re only getting a few at a time. Dr. Ford says you really have to put the effort in to make sure you’re getting your heart up if you want to see the positive effects on your health.
Complete results of the study can be found in JAMA.