Career Woman

Sitting is the new smoking – What to do about it


With so much going for being physically active, the paradox is that for a number of reasons we have become increasingly sedentary. This comes at a terrible cost: for 2013 this was estimated at INT$54 billion in direct costs (2013) plus $14 billion in indirect costs. According to a report in The Lancet, physical inactivity is the fourth leading risk factor for death in the world,

The thing to remember is that a single session of exercise cannot make up for the negative effects of sitting on our bottom all day. Seeking out opportunities to move more and sit less is the way to go.

How long do you think you sit for each day? This should include the time spent eating, commuting, at work and relaxing. Many of us spend more time sitting on our backside than we do lying in our beds. The average person sits for 62 per cent of their day. Our sedentary lifestyle is killing us.

Sorry to be blunt. But the solution is simple. Make the choice to stand up and move around more across your day. Note to the exercise-phobe and activity intolerant: This is not about Activewear© or Spanx© undergarments, or training for the next Olympics, merely about getting up out of your chair and moving, because:

We think better on our feet

Anti-sedentary campaigns now encourage us to think before we sit. The 2015 consensus statement commissioned and released by Public Health England and the Active Working Community Interest Company aimed to provide guidance for office workers to combat the problems of sedentary work by encouraging individuals to move towards two hours a day of standing and light activity (walking), progressing to four hours a day. The Get Britain Standing organisation is spreading the word to help us make the better choice by providing evidence that sitting for eight hours a day:

  • raises your risk of heart disease, cancer and diabetes by 40 per cent
  • increases your risk of a fatal heart attack by 64 per cent
  • slows your rate of metabolism dramatically.

Tips to reduce your sitting time

  • Stand while enjoying a coffee break or eating your lunch.
  • Get out for a stroll, run or jog during your lunchbreak.
  • Stand when making or taking a phone call.
  • Choose to stand on the bus, train or ferry on your commute.
  • Include more time standing, walking or cycling during your commute.
  • Take the stairs rather than the lift or do a combo. Walking down stairs is just as good as walking up.
  • Use a variable-height desk (with a comfort mat to reduce fatigue from standing).
  • Try a wobble/balance board while working at your variable-height desk.
  • Try a treadmill desk.
  • Use active seating.
  • Walk to your colleague’s office for a face-to-face conversation rather than sending an email or text message.
  • Get up at regular intervals through your day for a stretch or a walk. Set a timer on your phone if necessary.
  • Hold standing or walking meetings.

Maybe you’ve noticed how much better you feel when you’ve spent more time on your feet during the day. It’s disappointing to hear stories of employees being told the only way they can get a variable-height desk is if they have a note from their doctor saying they have a back problem that requires it. Isn’t prevention a better, more cost-effective solution?

If your boss is yet to be convinced, they might be interested to know that having the opportunity to stand more across our working day has been associated with reports of a 71 per cent increase in focus, a 66 per cent increase in productivity, and 33 per cent less stress and fatigue. Feeling good, more alert and getting more done has to be a good outcome, right?

Edited extract from Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life (Wiley) by Dr Jenny Brockis. Now available at all good bookstores and online at

About Dr Jenny Brockis

Dr Jenny Brockis is the author of Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life.

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