Exactly How Often You Need to Get Up from Your Desk to Avoid Disease

"Sitting disease" has been called the new smoking, but this tip from brand-new findings can help minimize your risk.


Research has linked prolonged bouts of sitting—as little as three hours or more per day—to obesity, wider waistlines, higher cholesterol levels, and increased risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. Sadly, most of us are spending way too many hours planted in front of our television sets, at our desks and commuting in cars, trains, and buses to work. Worse, we’re so overscheduled that we don’t have time to move enough to offset all that sitting.

Fewer than 5 percent of adults in the United States get the recommended 30 minutes of physical activity daily, while more than 80 percent of adults don’t meet the guidelines for aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities, according to the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition. These numbers may speak to why 70 percent of us are either overweight or obese, according to the CDC. But there may be a solution—or at least a way to lower our risk.

A new study by the American Diabetes Association (ADA) shows that getting up and moving for about three minutes every half-hour can help control blood sugar, increase weight loss, and decrease blood pressure and cardiovascular risk. Adding three minutes of movement every half an hour to your average eight-hour workday adds up to an extra 24 minutes of movement per day. Exercise allows us to expend more glucose instead of keeping it circulating in our bloodstream, leading to lower blood sugar levels and more calorie burned.

Though the new recommendations are aimed at people with diabetes, study author Sheri R. Colberg-Ochs, PhD, director of physical fitness for the ADA, has said that these updated guidelines are intended to ensure that everyone continues to get up and move around throughout the day. That may mean walking, stretching, doing yoga poses poses, or trying moves like the ones from Triple F Firefighter Fitness, an organization formed by firefighters dedicated to designing workouts that condition mind and body: Stretch the neck muscles by turning your head right, left, up and down, holding each pose for five seconds each. Then work the shoulders by doing arm circles, both clockwise and counter-clockwise. Next, stretch the core and lower back by standing with feet planted and facing forward, turn your upper body to the right, and then to the left. Holding each side for five seconds. Then slightly bend the knees and reach down for your toes, stretching the lower back and hamstrings. Then go to the legs, doing hamstring stretches, quadriceps stretches, and calf stretches. You could also do push-ups off the wall or off the edge of your desk. Complete 10 reps. Next, do 10 to 15 body squats. Just bend to a squat position, not lower than 90°, and press back up. Then alternate and repeat to complete three minutes.

If you have time for just one stretch on the half hour, make it this one. And if you stayed sedentary till quitting time? Here’s how to recover from a day of sitting.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest