Sit Less For Better Health: 7 Ways to Move More at Work and Home

Here’s some news you won’t want to take sitting down: People who sit for long periods of time may be at higher risk for a range of chronic health problems, according to new research.

"Over the last 10 years or so, there has been a blossoming interest in sedentary behavior [sitting or limited movement] as a potentially independent influence on health and disease," explains Richard R. Rosenkranz, PhD, FACSM, assistant professor at Kansas State University’s Department of Human Nutrition and adjunct fellow in the School of Science and Health, University of Western Sydney.

In a recent study, Rosenkranz and his colleagues found a relationship between excessive sitting and type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and chronic disease in general in middle aged and older men. A follow-up study of men and women confirmed that physical activity and sitting are independently associated with health and quality of life in middle aged and older women, too.

The Negative Effects of Sitting

Rosenkranz speculates that one of the reasons sitting can have a negative effect on health is that when people sit for long periods of time, their energy expenditure is low and there is very little in the way of skeletal muscle contractions, which help take glucose (sugar) from the bloodstream. "Without muscular contraction reducing glucose, we may rely on insulin to take care of it, which can potentially put us on a path toward insulin resistance," he says. Insulin resistance can lead to diabetes, and other serious conditions.

Putting it Into Perspective

What this means for the average person is that making it a point to spend less time sitting could be an important part of your strategy for healthful living. "Our best plan of action to avoid such negative consequences [like insulin resistance] is to limit sitting, avoid prolonged sitting, and swap out some sitting for standing, walking, and other more active behaviors," Rosenkranz says. "In other words, sit less, move more."

Get Out Of That Chair

Here are some tips for putting Rosenkranz’s advice into action:

  1. Don’t sit down on the job. Invest in an adjustable workstation or a sitting-standing desk so you can exercise your body while still being efficient.
  2. Take a break every hour. Go on a brisk 5-minute walk to increase your heart rate.
  3. Stand and stretch your muscles frequently.
  4. Skip the phone calls and texts. Instead, get up and visit your colleagues and neighbors.
  5. Build more exercise into your day. If you commute to work or school, park your car further away from your office—or if you take public transportation, get off before your stop.
  6. Stand up and pace while you talk on the phone.
  7. Track your progress. Some of the latest wearable fitness trackers and smart phone apps measure your activity. Keeping track of your physical activities will enable you to see how incorporating healthy habits, like adding a brisk walk to your routine, can bring about significant gains.

A Final Note

Keep in mind that while sitting less can be important, Rosenkranz says that this alone may not be enough. For best results, he advises everyone to also engage in regular exercise, avoid smoking, eat a well-balanced and plant-based diet with ample fruits and vegetables, and limit alcohol consumption.

Richard R. Rosenkranz, PhD, FACSM, reviewed this article.


Richard R. Rosenkranz, PhD, FACSM, Kansas State University Department of Human Nutrition, email interview 15 March 2014.

George et al. "Chronic Disease and Sitting Time in Middle-Aged Australian Males: Findings From the 45 and Up Study." International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 10 (2013): 20 doi:10.1186/1479-5868-10-20 

Rosenkranz et al. "Active Lifestyles Related to Excellent Self-Rated Health and Quality of Life: Cross Sectional Findings From 194,545 Participants in The 45 and Up Study." BMC Public Health 13 (2013): 1071. 

"Insulin Resistance and Prediabetes." National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse (NDIC). Page last updated January 22, 2013.