Even Those Who Are Physically Active Should Avoid Hours of Sedentary Time

AHA Blogger

From the American Heart Association





This article was prepared by the American Heart Association (AHA). Transamerica is not affiliated with the AHA and does not control, guarantee, or endorse the information. This information does not constitute the practice of medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always talk to your healthcare provider for diagnosis and treatment, including your specific medical needs. If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem or condition, please contact a qualified health care professional immediately. If you are in the United States and experiencing a medical emergency, call 911, or call for emergency medical help immediately.


Too much sitting may be as detrimental to your health as smoking. In fact, sitting for hours on end, whether at your desk, in your car, or on the couch, can increase the risk for cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, and death, medical evidence suggests.*


An American Heart Association science advisory on sedentary behavior also indicated that people who are physically active at other times may still face a health risk from too much sedentary time.*


If you take a brisk walk in the morning before work, that doesn’t mean you can sit for eight hours straight. American adults, on average, spend six to eight hours each day being sedentary just by sitting. *


“Sit less, move more,” is the advice of Deborah Rohm Young, Ph.D., chair of the panel that wrote the heart association advisory published in the journal Circulation.


If you’re among the millions of Americans who have a desk job, here are simple ways to add movement to your daily routine at the office.


Little bits of activity


At work, you’ve got to get your job done, whether you are in an office or based at home. But every hour to two try to move around if only for a short spurt, said Young, director of behavioral research in the department of research and evaluation at Kaiser Permanente Southern California.


“Take those smaller breaks throughout the day so you’re not sitting all at once.” –Deborah Rohm Young, Ph.D. 


  • Set a timer to remind yourself to move around for five minutes every hour or 10 minutes every two hours, Young said. 
  • Walk around the office during a quick break. If you get longer breaks, use the time to walk outdoors, whether it’s a stroll down the street or laps around the building. 
  • A midday walk during a lunch break is another good idea. It gets you moving and helps clear your mind as you prepare to focus on the afternoon’s work. 
  • Standing during meetings also gives you a break from hours of sitting. 
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Walk to talk with a co-worker in person rather than using the phone or electronic messaging.
  • Consider taking public transportation to work instead of driving. It likely involves walking to and from the transit stop and may save you gas money. 


Get creative at your desk


Standing desks or adjustable height desks are becoming more popular and affordable and can help you avoid sitting while working on your computer or talking on the phone.


Look into using an anti-fatigue mat and pay attention to other best practices for standing desks. For example, try to alternate between sitting and standing.


Stretching occasionally while sitting at your desk activates muscles and is better than doing nothing at all, Young added. Do some ankle circles or flexes or some arm movements.


Try boosting your activity level with more intense exercises at your desk, such as squats or jumping jacks.


Office workouts and wellness plans


Though the cost of sedentary behavior has not been quantified in dollars, research suggests a connection between too much sedentary time and health problems.


Poor health can lead to higher out-of-pocket medical costs for individuals. And personal and family health problems lead to productivity loss in the workplace that can cost employers $225.8 billion per year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


More companies are implementing workplace wellness programs to encourage employees to boost their physical activity and take other steps that contribute to better cardiovascular and overall health. The American Heart Association recommends adults get at least 150 minutes of physical activity per week.


Even 10-minute segments of physical activity can be beneficial and help meet the weekly goal.


On-site gyms and fitness classes in the workplace can make it easier to explore an exercise program especially if you don’t currently exercise regularly. After all, checking out what a yoga class looks like is easier if it’s in your office building.


Workers may want to pay attention to other possible financial incentives for getting active. A proposal is under consideration in Congress to classify gym memberships and exercise class costs as medical expenses for tax purposes, Young noted. That proposal centers on pre-tax medical accounts and is known as the PHIT Act.


Meanwhile, back at the office, look for simple ways to increase your activity. Young’s main piece of advice: “Get up and move.”


* “Sedentary Behavior and Cardiovascular Morbidity and Mortality: A Science Advisory From the American Heart Association,” American Heart Association, August 2016.