If you are like most people, ourselves included, you probably spend a large portion of each day in a seated position.
It was hard enough before the COVID-19 pandemic, lockdowns and social distancing, but since then it has become especially bad since many of us have fallen out of our regular exercise routines and into bad habits.
A survey by Ergotron, a global manufacturer of furniture and mobility products, found the average American spends up to 13 hours sitting every day. Obesity rates, cardiovascular disease and other chronic conditions continue to rise, and physical inactivity is the fifth largest risk factor for global mortality, as well as an increased risk for COVID-19.
Pills, quick fixes and dieting all fuel our need for instant gratification, but they rarely help us change for the better. Here are some simple habits to incorporate into your lifestyle to work toward reestablishing better health.
1. Get up once per hour. Getting 30 minutes of daily physical activity is a great start, but it is often not enough to offset seven-plus hours of sitting at a desk job, with another five hours sitting the rest of the day in front of the computer or TV.
A 2016 study in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity found that spreading out physical activity throughout the day improved mood, decreased feelings of fatigue and had a positive effect on appetite. They recommended that "introducing short bouts of activity during the workday of sedentary office workers is a promising approach to improve overall well-being at work without negatively impacting cognitive performance.”
Try setting reminders for yourself throughout the day to get up and take a lap around the office or perform some quick body-weight movements like squatting, twisting and touching your toes to get your blood flowing and your muscles moving. Adding these short, five-minute breaks every hour was enough in another study to counteract the adverse changes that normally occur in your arteries during prolonged sitting.
2. Turn off the electronics. This one seems so obvious, and yet seems so difficult to change.
We can’t argue that social media and TV can often be mindless tasks that discourage productivity and can even cause more stress. A recent study in the Lancet found TV watching is even worse than just sitting, and that five hours of TV viewing per day will increase your mortality risk, no matter how much you exercise. Better to keep it at an average of just 1-2 hours a day, at the most.
3. Plan exact times and workouts.
James Clear, an author and avid weightlifter who specializes in creating good habits and helping people change for the better, cites a study in the British Journal of Health Psychology where participants nearly tripled their participation rates in exercise by simply being asked to state exactly when and where they intended to exercise. Planning is stronger than willpower.
Also, it is wise to develop backup plans in advance. You could think “If I work late and can’t make it to the gym, then I will do a quick workout video at home or walk around the neighborhood once I’ve got the kids in bed.” Or “If Cindy brings doughnuts to work again, I will take my lunch to my office or outside so I am not tempted.”
The same goes with meal planning. Plan your meals before you go to the grocery store, only buy the fresh ingredients you need, and do all your chopping and prepping one day a week to set yourself up for simple and nutritious grab-and-go snacks throughout the week.
4. Find someone or some thing to keep you accountable. While the research does suggest that just 30 minutes of daily activity may be insufficient to ward off the negative health impact of eight-plus hours of sitting daily, the study from the Lancet did show that 60-75 minutes (8,000-10,000 steps) of moderate exercise daily did cancel the risk.
Whether you use a device like a Fitbit or Apple Watch, enlist a friend, hire a personal trainer or join a group class setting, finding a way to hold yourself accountable is usually the best way to establish a regular exercise routine.
Many people have said starting healthy habits and exercising is mostly about overcoming mental and emotional obstacles. Showing up and starting tends to be half the battle. Peer influence is a powerful motivator, and pairing up with a friend or colleague provides mutual accountability that you are less likely to excuse yourself from. Plus, you will have someone there to spot you and cheer you toward your best workout possible.
Thomas Morrison and Megan Stockburger are personal trainers at the Bradley Wellness Center.