Prolonged sitting is inherently bad for us. I’m sorry to say there are no ifs, ands, or buts about this. The solutions people find are to do more with less time. To squeeze in a walk before breakfast and workout at lunch. This is the equivalent of asking dogs to sit still all day and only take two 15 minute walks. It is not in their nature as it is not in ours. Over the years we have domesticated animals and we have domesticated our bodies. We move less and sit more. On my mission to address the health determinants and reduced life expectancy stemming from prolonged sitting, I am frequently asked if I think we should move all the time. The answer is simple, no. We cannot revert back to the “natural way”, at least not entirely. We have built a complex society which does not allow for such drastic shifts as never wearing shoes, squatting when you wait for your coffee order, or hanging from a pullup bar in the middle of meetings. These are extreme examples, but there is nothing physiologically wrong with them. We need to move more.
The sad truth is we all want to know the number. How long? How fast? How much weight? How many reps? We have lost the love of movement and play. We see movement now as a means to improve health, get from one place to another, or possibly for sex appeal. Did you know that minute for minute walking up the stairs is 3-4 times more energy consuming than sex? The idea that we think about that and look at how much we would need to walk or lift to be healthy is problematic. We have separated our lifestyle so far from the physical demands our body craves, that we must supplement with exercise regimens and mobility drills. Please do not misunderstand this as a rant against exercise, we need to supplement our current movement practices because they are so scarce. But the solution I propose is not more “supplementation”.
We need to include movement into the everyday life and activities we perform. Yes, breaking up sitting into 20-30 minutes at a time is a huge boost to your health as it reduces the impacts of sitting too long. An even better method is sitting for 30 minutes, then standing for 30 minutes. But we need to go further to reclaim our love for movement . Take joy in chores as they improve your health. Take the stairs, it is actually faster than elevators and escalators for short distances. Bring your loved ones a glass of water in the morning and evening. This means you have to take an extra trip. If you want to get really into it, start sitting unsupported on the floor when watching TV. As we include movement into the majority of our day we have huge benefits in health, energy, and longevity. Aches and pains are reduced because we actually use the muscles and joints as they were intended.
The answer to the question “How often should we move?”, is incredibly relative, but it is usually “more often.” If you are just starting, you may only break up your sitting during work. If you have an exercise regimen, you may start with more cooking by hand and changing how often you do mobility and stretching. Once your body is used to tolerating all of this additional movement, you can implement standing and walking to have less than 8 hours of sitting in your day. This is the end goal. By reducing sitting we inevitably fill our day with movement. The goal of less than 8 hours of sitting is rather difficult, but attainable. You just have to start small and build up from there, more often.