Skip to main content
You May Work Out, But You're Probably More Sedentary Than Ever—Here's Why
An hour of daily exercise can’t overcome the other 23 hours of sitting. Here’s how to make sure you’re truly living an active life, 24/7.
If you’re one of the 56 percent of Americans who have been working from home in the past year, you’ve likely been enjoying more flexibility during the workweek along with the unquantifiable perk of being able to take virtual calls in your comfiest leggings.
Unfortunately, those upsides come with a cost. A recent survey found that Americans are spending an average of four more hours a day sitting than before the pandemic. In excessive amounts, sitting can lead to a host of issues including neck pain, back pain and weight gain.
If those extra hours in a seat have been taking a toll on your health, it’s time to stand up for yourself. Here’s why it’s important to avoid a sedentary lifestyle, plus a few ideas for how to get your body moving again.
When the world transitioned to remote work last year, it meant an end to the extra activity that naturally occurs during a traditional 9-to-5. Instead of walking to the office coffee ma-chine on a different part of your floor, now it’s a mere three steps away from your make-shift kitchen desk. Getting up to chat with a coworker is a thing of the past when you can ping them from the comfort of your couch. And all the steps you took while commuting, even if it was just walking to and from your parking spot, disappeared in favor of virtual meetings and calls.
The pandemic may have added to the country’s sedentary habits, but even before working from home became the new norm, Americans were already spending more time on their butts than ever before. A January 2020 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted that at least 15 percent of all American adults were physically inactive, with close to 48 percent of the population inactive in some states.
Health Risks of Excessive Sitting
The bad news first: Sitting too much is associated with increased risks for heart disease, type 2 diabetes and even death. Worse, a sedentary lifestyle has a snowball effect, as more sitting-induced back pain makes it harder to get off the couch and take that 20-minute meditative walk, which leads to more sitting, which leads to more pain.
On the flip side, little doses of activity, like lacing up your shoes and walking around the block, benefits more than just your body. “Small bursts of movement throughout the day can increase focus and productivity by getting the blood flowing,” explains certified personal trainer Ariel Hoffman, founder of Ariel Hoffman Wellness in Malibu, CA. “Regular movement can decrease stress, anxiety and eating out of boredom, and gives you energy by increasing circulation and metabolic efficiency.”
Working Exercise Into Your Day
If you’re ready to be more active, it’s important not to overdo it with long, intense workouts right off the bat. “Don’t try to do too much, too fast, when getting back into an exercise routine because it can result in an injury,” says certified personal trainer Brian Ward, founder of TheWorkoutDigest. “I always tell my clients to start with a low-impact activity like walking or beginner's yoga. The gentle stretching and slow movements of yoga are a great way to warm up the body and prepare it for more intense workouts in the near future.”
And remember, the focus here is on movement throughout your day, not one mega workout once a day. To that end, these strategies can help:
· Set regular reminders to move. Your phone (or a good old-fashioned kitchen timer) might be your best friend when it comes to taking breaks from work and moving regularly throughout the day. “Set a timer for 45 minutes and then get up and do some light activity for 15 minutes,” says Ward. “This can be anything from stretches to wall push-ups to walking up some stairs. Repeat again every 45 minutes.” Another tactic: “Try walking meetings or walking phone calls,” suggests yoga instructor Kelly Clifton Turner, director of education for YogaSix in Carlsbad, CA.
· Find a partner. Not sure if you have the willpower to stick to your new habits on your own? Grab a friend and ask them to join your active efforts. “Accountability is always helpful,” says Hoffman. “It can be a friend, a colleague, or another participant in an online app like MyFitnessPal.” You can also create simple check-in rituals that don’t require you to meet up in person (like sending a certain emoji once you hit 10,000 steps for the day).
· Find movement that you love. “If you enjoy doing it, then it will be easier for you to incorporate it consistently,” says Hoffman. Maybe you look forward to spending time with your dog and you can add an extra walk to the mix (your pup won’t complain). Or you might treat yourself to a new pair of training shoes as extra inspiration to commit to your favorite HIIT class three times a week. Even a simple morn-ing dance party to your favorite high-energy playlist is enough to get your blood flowing and set the tone for an active day ahead.
Rediscovering a more active life after months of parking it on the couch takes a bit of grit and determination. Fortunately, you’ve got both. This is your cue to stand up, stretch it out, take a walk and pump a few air squats before you get back to work. Your future self will thank you.