Sedentary behavior, classified as too much sitting, has long been thought of as "the new smoking" in that we know it's very bad for us, but can't seem to stop doing it. With many people in desk jobs, and a global pandemic forcing us to stay at home for almost two years, more and more people seem to be sedentary than ever before.
Staying seated for too long is bad for our heart, as blood doesn't circulate around the body nearly as well as it does when we move, and we're expending very few calories, which means it's easy to gain weight when we stay seated.
Some people attempt to offset this damage with some of the best exercises for weight loss or sessions on the best exercise machines to lose weight, but workouts might not be the key to undoing the damage of sitting.
Instead, simply getting up out of your chair and moving a little bit, rather than doing structured exercise, seems to be the key. Researchers from Australian, Canadian, and UK universities (opens in new tab) got together to compile all the available data we have on sedentary lifestyles last year, and found that prolonged sitting can negate the beneficial effects of your exercise sessions.
However, interrupting your periods of sitting with simple physical activity such as getting up, stretching, or walking around can prevent some of the damage of sitting by breaking up these prolonged periods.
The researchers write: "Sedentary behaviours that typically involve long periods of sitting during waking hours might have physiological consequences that are distinct from those of a lack of moderate–vigorous-intensity physical activity, often referred to as exercise."
"We make a case for an approach to preventing and managing cardiovascular disease that involves ‘sitting less and moving more’."
Simply getting up and walking around for a minute or two every half hour is better than remaining at your desk. Think of it in terms of your heart keeping your blood flowing through your body; when you exercise your heart has to pump blood to all the muscles and organs in your body to keep them oxygenated, but the longer you sit, the fewer those demands. Getting up and moving around will keep your heart healthy by making sure your body is working often.
If you're working at home, you'll be able to do some stretching exercises to encourage circulation in your body, but if you're in an office, you might not feel comfortable busting out some toe-touches every half an hour. Instead, grab yourself one of the best fitness watches and set a "movement alarm". After 30 or 60 minutes, go and grab yourself a glass of water, head to the bathroom, stretch your legs, whatever you need to do for a moment to keep that circulation flowing.
When it comes to formal exercise routines, posterior chain exercises such as squats and deadlifts can help your legs, core, glutes and lower back grow and repair themselves, to avoid hip and back pain as a result of too much sitting.
Matt Evans is an experienced health and fitness journalist and News Editor at Fit&Well, covering all things exercise and nutrition on the Fit&Well website. Matt originally discovered exercise through martial arts: he holds a black belt in Karate and remains a keen runner, gym-goer, and infrequent yogi. His top fitness tip? Stretch.
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