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Here's The Easiest Way To Undo The Harms Of Sitting All Day

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Erin Brodwin

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Don't sit for too long. Flickr/Alba García Aguado

Sitting all day is terrible for you. So terrible, studies have found, that regular exercise isn't enough to counteract its many harms.

So what's someone with an office job to do?


As it turns out, you may not have to do all that much. Even a standing desk is likely not required. Instead, simply make sure you're moving for at least a couple of minutes every hour.

Walking is best. A new paper shows what many of us may have already guessed: We burn far fewer calories standing than we do walking. But just getting up to stand and stretch is better than staying put — a finding that's bolstered by two other recent studies. If you work the standard nine-to-five schedule, one study suggests that all it takes is roughly 16 minutes of extra movement each day.

In other words, for overall health, it doesn't matter what you do, so long as you're breaking up long periods of sitting with something else. Walking burns way more calories, but standing will still knock off about nine additional calories an hour compared with plain old sitting, according to one paper. It doesn't sound like much, but it adds up to burning about 80 calories a day, or 400 calories a week and 1,600 calories a month, assuming you only work eight hours a day, five days a week.

Not too bad, right?


Walking, Not Standing, Is The Best Thing You Can Do To Counteract The Harms Of Sitting 

In one observational study, published last summer, researchers looked at close to 4,000 US adults who'd agreed to wear movement trackers every day to try to find out how their risk of dying was affected by how they moved around during the day.

Three years after the survey ended, the researchers checked records to see how many participants had died. They then used that information to figure out what the participants' overall risk of dying prematurely was, and whether time spent sitting, standing, or walking had played any part in contributing to that risk.

Woman walking through the park in the morningMatt Cardy/Getty Images


They found that standing instead of sitting didn't do much to protect people from dying earlier. (Sorry, standing-desk fans.) But the occasional light stroll did.

In fact, people who ambled around for about two minutes every hour had about a 33% lower risk of dying prematurely than the people who stayed seated the whole time. (One caveat: Since the study was observational, meaning the researchers had no control over participants' behavior, we can't say for sure that walking reduced the risk of dying, only that the two things are related.)

And the latest paper shows that in terms of overall calories burned, walking leaves standing in the dust. Participants in that small study, published this month, burned three times as many calories walking – even at a fairly easy pace – than when they stood or sat.

Just Get Out Of Your Seat


Another study, published in June 2015, recommended spending a total of two hours out of your seat each day to counteract the risks of cardiometabolic diseases and premature death that have been linked with sitting all day.

It also suggests breaking up time spent sitting with a few minutes of anything else, whether it's walking or standing.

So the main takeaway is simple: Move around as much as you can, even if your office job would have you sitting at a screen all day. Stand, walk, jump around, do whatever. Just break up your sedentary schedule with some movement. Your body will thank you.


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