We’ve been hearing for years that a sedentary lifestyle isn’t healthy. Sitting for long periods of time has been linked to higher risks of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. But recently, researchers have clarified that it’s not just the overall time spent sitting that counts.
According to a study published in September’s Annals of Internal Medicine, adults who sit for an hour or two at a time without moving have a higher risk of premature death than those who sit for the same total amount of time but break it up with frequent bouts of activity.
“This study adds to the growing literature on how dangerous sitting for long periods of time is for our health and underscores a growing awareness among clinicians and researchers that sitting really is the new smoking,” says coauthor Monika Safford, MD, chief of the Division of General Internal Medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine.
Of nearly 8,000 study participants, those who spent the most time sedentary had nearly twice the risk of death as those at the other end of the spectrum.
Maneesh Bawa, MD, a Scripps orthopedic surgeon, says the sedentary are the most likely to contract diabetes and heart disease, but the chronically desk-bound also experience less serious conditions like neck and back pain, which can appear in as little as six months to a year. “Every 10 degrees that people bend their necks forward looking at a computer increases the stress on your neck from the weight of the head 15 to 20 pounds.”
Dr. Bawa recommends taking 10 minutes every hour or two to take a walk or do easy stretches like neck extensions and shoulder rolls. Set an alarm if you have to. Follow that up with 30 minutes to an hour of physical activity after work. “Think about it like a job. You have to look out for yourself and you have to make taking care of yourself a priority.”