9 Ways to Beat a Sedentary Lifestyle

Man gardening
Caiaimage/Chris Ryan/Getty Images

An increasingly sedentary lifestyle is one of the banes of our modern existence—and a major cause of the obesity epidemic. Research has found that being sedentary, including sitting for longer than four hours per day, greatly increases the risk of cardiovascular disease (perhaps even more than smoking!) and diabetes. Below are nine ways by which you can escape falling into the too-sedentary trap.

1. Take a Walk

Plenty of research has borne out the health benefits of a daily 30-minute walk. In the Nurses’ Health Study, for instance, those who walked briskly or otherwise achieved moderate-intensity exercise for at least 30 minutes every day had a low risk of sudden cardiac death during 26 years of follow up. Other research has shown that walking can prevent dementia better than any number of crossword puzzles can.

Yet another study has found that as little as three five-minute walks throughout the workday can reverse the harm caused to peripheral arteries (in the legs) by prolonged sitting. So get up and walk. Hold walking meetings instead of sitting around a conference table for hours at a time. Walk your dog—or your cat—if you (and your cat) are into that sort of thing. The point is to get—and keep—moving.

2. Take the Stairs

Studies have found that stair climbing, which is considered vigorous-intensity physical activity, burns more calories per minute than jogging. One company, StepJockey, which is funded by the United Kingdom Department of Health and has as its sole mission the goal of getting everyone to take the stairs whenever and wherever possible, notes that stair climbing expends eight to nine times more energy than sitting and about seven times more energy than taking the elevator. And it is so easy to do. The stairs are often right there in front of you, and thus it can be a lot easier, and quicker, to take the stairs than to get to the gym or the sports field.

3. Stand Up

If you have a desk job or any other occupational activity that requires you to sit, make it a point to stand up at least every 20 minutes. Or get one of the standing desks that are becoming more and more popular. Take calls standing up. Stand up and get a drink of water. Stand up and walk over to the next cubicle or down the hallway to deliver news to a colleague.

In the United Kingdom, finding that British people sit for 8.9 hours each day on average, a unique and innovative campaign, known as Get Britain Standing, is underway to “grow awareness and education of the dangers of sedentary working (i.e., sitting more than four hours).” This campaign provides a variety of resources, including a “sitting calculator” that will help you estimate the time you spend sitting daily and correlate this with your “risk level.” They also provide a number of solutions for “Active Working."

4. Wash the Dishes

That’s right—instead of (barely) moving from table to couch, get up and clean your kitchen after dinner. You will be standing up and doing the dishes, then engaging in more physical activity as you clean the countertops, sweep the floor, etc. This will help you continue the increased physical activity you began at work (assuming you begin doing the above), and engaging in physical activity after eating helps lower blood sugar levels as well as the risk of insulin resistance in the long run.

If you’re eating out (which you should do less, especially if trying to lose weight, because eating out tends to lead to overeating), plan to take a nice walk after your dinner. You can continue conversations with companions while walking.

5. Get Up During Commercial Breaks

If you watch television at home, you can use commercial breaks as more time for physical activity. Standing up and doing something during commercial breaks—whether it be folding clothes, doing a few push-ups or sit-ups, or any number of other activities—will break up the extra sedentary time that tends to accrue during most, if not all, screen-based activities.

  1. 6. Go for a Run

    You don’t have to be a running guru to reap the benefits of running. A recent study found that running for as little as five to 10 minutes per day at slow speeds (less than six miles per hour) was associated with significantly reduced risks of death from all causes and from cardiovascular disease.
    1. 7. Do Some Gardening

      Any gardener can tell you just how much physical effort is involved in every kind of gardening activity, and the American Heart Association considers general gardening to be one of many forms of exercise that fall under the category of moderate-intensity physical activity. Most gardeners find that gardening is not only mentally and spiritually stimulating, but that it is a fantastic physical activity as well—one that can prevent obesity.
    2. 8. Park Farther Away

      Whenever you can do so safely, make it a point to park a little farther away from your destination, so you have to walk a few steps more. Every step counts, and these extra steps will add up throughout the day to increase your overall physical activity. Wondering how many steps you’re taking on a daily basis? A number of pedometers are now on the market in every shape and color, it seems, and tracking your steps may help you get more active and lose more weight in the long term.
    3. 9. Better Yet: Walk, Bike, or Take Public Transit

      Mode of transportation has now been found to be associated with overweight and obesity. Active modes of travel such as walking or cycling have greater health benefits and greater potential to prevent obesity. Even public transit seems to be associated with lower body mass index (BMI) than driving your own car to work.
    4. If you can do many or all of the above, you will be well on your way to staying in motion, which is key for lifelong health.
    Was this page helpful?
    Article Sources
    • Chiuve SE, Fung TT, Rexrode KM, Spiegelman D, et al. Adherence to a low-risk, healthy lifestyle and risk of sudden cardiac death among women. JAMA. 2011; 306:62-69.
    • Flint E, Cummins S, Sacker A. Associations between active commuting, body fat, and body mass index: population based, cross sectional study in the United Kingdom. BMJ. 2014;349:g4887.
    • Lee DC, Pate RR, Lavie CJ, et al. Leisure-time running reduces all-cause and cardiovascular mortality risk. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2014;64:472-81.
    • Thosar SS, Bielko SL, Mather KJ, et al. Effect of prolonged sitting and breaks in sitting time on endothelial function. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2014 Aug 18. [Epub ahead of print]