What does it mean to ‘sit less’?

In the current working environment, you may be managing to get plenty of physical activity each week yet still sitting for long periods of time. Whether you work from home, off-site or in an office, here are simple ways to build more movement into your day.

Woman sitting at her desk

Our jobs and lifestyles have a huge impact on the amount of time we spend sitting. Many of us spend a large part of our workday glued to a seat, then commute back home and end up sitting down for most of the evening too.

How sitting less helps your heart

When we looked at the latest evidence, we found a strong association between the amount of time we spend sitting and our risk of heart disease1. People who sat the most had a risk of heart disease that was 29% greater than those who sat the least1.

Long periods of sitting without breaks impacts on many of the risk factors connected to heart disease like your blood pressure, blood sugar levels, blood vessel function and blood flow to the brain2. Replacing sitting with regular physical activity is one of the best things you can do to manage your risk of heart disease1.

woman in the office

How much is ‘too much’ sitting?

Even if you meet the physical activity recommendations, you still may be sitting too much.

There isn’t an exact amount of sitting that is associated with better health. It’s important to look at the big picture as high volumes of sitting can be particularly harmful in people who are inactive2. When it comes to sitting, the risks increase the more time you spend sitting each day and steeply increase with more than 9.5 hrs/day1.

What if I don’t have time for activity?

Short bursts of activity still benefit your heart and can help you meet the physical activity recommendations. We used to think that bouts of activity needed to last longer than 10 minutes for there to be some benefit. However, we now know that every little bit of movement that replaces the time you spend sitting benefits your heart health1.

Snack-sized amounts of activity that are as little as 5 or 10 minutes may seem insignificant, but they can easily accumulate across the day and week. This means that any opportunity you can take to move your body counts towards improving your overall heart health, such as parking a bit further away from work or taking the stairs.

Stretch to success

Stretching helps to keep our muscles flexible, strong and healthy and can be done almost anywhere. Use these stretching exercises to build movement into your day, lengthen the body and reverse the ‘C’ shape after sitting for long periods.

chest stretch - hold for 20 seconds, side stretch - hold for 20 second and repeat on other side. Hamstring and lower back stretch. Shoulder stretch - hold for 20 second and repeat on other side.
  • Chest stretch: place arms behind your head and look up.
  • Side stretch: raise your right arm overhead and bend your upper body to the left in a reaching motion. Keep your upper body facing straight ahead. Repeat using your left arm.
  • Hamstring and lower back stretch: stand with feet shoulder-width apart with knees slightly bent. Tuck chin to chest, tilt forwards and slowly lower hands towards feet as you roll your torso down one vertebra at a time. Roll forward as far down as you’re comfortable going. Inhale, and slowly come back up to standing.
  • Shoulder stretch: stretch your shoulders with one arm at your side and the other one reaching backwards at shoulder height keeping your palm up and your thumb reaching back. Repeat on the other side.

Hold each stretch for 20-30 seconds and aim to build up to doing three sets at a time.

Simple ways to sit less

While there are times of the day and tasks we need to complete where we absolutely need to sit, there may be other times of the day that you are able to build in movement.

Whether you’re working in an office, off-site or at home there are plenty of ways to sit less.

  • Get outside for fresh air during breaks.
  • Step away from your desk or vehicle to eat.
  • Wear comfortable shoes or keep them nearby for walking.
  • Use the stairs where you can and toilets that involve a walk.
  • Park further away or use public transport on some days.
  • Stand and stretch at regular intervals throughout the day.
  • Stand for meetings or phone calls.
  • Go and chat to a colleague instead of sending an email.
  • Regularly get up to use rubbish bins, printers and to fill your water bottle.
  • Try a standing or walking meeting.

What if I have an active job?

With a physical job like building or a trade where you are out and about the ‘sit less’ message may be less relevant to you. However, it’s still important to think about reducing sitting and breaking up long periods when you are more likely to be sedentary like evenings, weekends and days off.

builders

Can you offset a day of sitting?

Some evidence suggests that people who are highly active may offset some of the health-related risks associated with high volumes of sitting. However, no matter how active you are it is still important to reduce total sitting time and break up long periods where you can.

What if I have a physical disability?

If you use a wheelchair or are unable to stand then build movement into your day your own way. This will look different between each person but may involve seated activities, stretches or upper/lower limb movements of any type or intensity. Moving your body often and including physical activity each week will benefit your heart health.

two men walking with one on a wheelchair

Use technology to help you sit less

If you’re a fan of technology, have a go at using one of the following tools on your phone or computer to help you sit less.

  • Add appointments into your calendar to remind you to stretch or move.
  • Use a wearable device or download an App to track your activity levels and remind you to move more.
  • Download an App with prompts to take regular breaks and stand during the day and for guided stretch ideas.
  • Set a timer on your computer or alarm on your phone to remind you to get up and move and do a lap around the house or office.
  • Set limits on your phone to reduce your screen time.
Lily Henderson, NZRD

Lily Henderson, NZRD

National Nutrition Advisor

I am passionate about improving the health of all Kiwis from young through to old. I have enjoyed working in nutrition in the UK, Australia and New Zealand.

References

  1. Heart Foundation Physical activity, Sedentary Behaviour and Heart Health Evidence paper, 2018
  2. Dunstan et al. Sit less and move more for cardiovascular health: emerging insights and opportunities. Nature Reviews Cardiology. 2021