Sitting all day is the new smoking. Even if you maintain a balanced diet and get regular exercise, study after study shows that sitting at a desk for eight hours a day could negate even the healthiest lifestyles.
Studies have linked excessive sitting to early death, cancer, obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. Standing, on the other hand, has been shown to improve blood sugar, eliminate fats, and decrease cholesterol levels because it stimulates blood flow throughout the body. Sitting for less than three hours per day could increase life expectancy by an average of 0.2 years, according to one study, which might be why many office workers have turned to the revered standing desk, hoping to cut a few calories while still grinding out their daily to-do list.
But standing desks may not be the answer to your weight loss (and longevity) prayers.
A Cochrane analysis found that people only reported using their standing desk for 30 minutes to two hours a day. In reality, you’d need to work standing up for two to four hours each day to actually reap the promised benefits. Another study published in the European Heart Journal followed more than 5,000 people for 16 years and found that standing versus sitting had very little effect on their mortality. The one caveat: Study participants walked more than double the daily average.
That’s good news for those who prefer a more traditional desk because the one thing you need to stay healthy is already lying around your house: sneakers. A study published this year found that walking around the office can help people avoid weight gain; participants who took a 15-minute walk burned three times as many calories as those who sat or stood still. If you took just four 15-minute walks a day, you’d burn 130 more calories than if you simply sat or stood at your desk. Other research shows that walking for just 10 minutes after a prolonged period of sitting can restore heart health and decrease the risk of diabetes.
According to research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, taking regular strolls throughout the day is believed to be healthier than half an hour of intense exercise because it discourages prolonged sedentary behavior, a huge contributor to cardiovascular diseases and mortality. Plus, breaks boost your mood and make you more productive.
It’s not hard to turn walking breaks into a daily habit. Try setting alarms on your phone to remind you to move around, or make it a priority to get outside for a brisk walk during your lunch hour. All of those little changes will add up, so slip on your tennis shoes and start walking your way to a healthier body.