Sit Less, Stand More

Looking for a simple way to boost your heart health, build bone and muscle strength, and improve your mood? Consider standing more and sitting less.

Looking for a simple way to boost your heart health, build bone and muscle strength, and improve your mood? Consider standing more and sitting less.

Research shows that older people on average spend more than nine waking hours a day sitting or reclining—habits that put us at risk for poor health. Too much sedentary time has been linked to obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers—even among those who are physically active other times of day.

That’s why doctors and health scientists are encouraging people to spend more time on their feet. For example, my colleague Dori Rosenberg found that coaching people over age 60 to stand more had positive results. Participants in her study spent 54 minutes less per day sitting. Their walking speed increased, they had less depression, and they felt more accomplished.

Now Dr. Rosenberg is conducting a larger study where volunteers wear a small tracking device on their waist or thigh. Data from the devices, along with information from their health records, may soon tell us how standing more can improve various health conditions.

In the meantime, you can do some experimenting of your own. See if following these tips help you feel stronger and more energetic:

Practice standing when you usually sit

  • Stand at the counter to read the news, work on your computer, eat lunch, or play a game.
  • Stand and pace while talking on the phone.
  • Use a music stand to read a book or magazine.
  • Practice stretching or strengthening exercises as you take breaks from sitting.

Turn TV time into active time

  • Use commercials as a signal to take a break from sitting.
  • Do standing chores like ironing or folding clothes while viewing.
  • Limit your time to shows you really enjoy. Turn off the box when you find it dull or annoying. Take a short walk instead.

Little things add up

  • Take your dog for an extra stroll each day. Do the same with your grandchild, spouse, or friend.
  • Park your car a block away when running errands.
  • Walk an extra lap around the grocery store.
  • Take a walk around the block after each meal.
  • Climb stairs in your house—just for the exercise.
  • If you live in a large building, walk through the halls.
  • Write a letter each day and walk to the mailbox to send it.

Follow your progress

Tracking your success can be fun and motivating. Some people use mechanical pedometers to count their steps each day. Others use digital trackers such as a Fitbit, a smart watch, or a smart-phone app—any of which can monitor calories burned, floors climbed, and duration and intensity of exercise. But you don’t really need such gizmos, especially if you’re consistently following some of the tips I’ve offered.

The point is to cut your time sitting or reclining and boost time on your feet. Over time, you may have more energy and fewer health concerns.

 

Dr. Eric B. Larson is vice president for research and health care innovation at Kaiser Permanente Washington and author of Enlightened Aging: Building Resilience for a Long, Active Life (Rowman & Littlefield, 2017).

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