You likely already know that there are health risks from sitting too much, so we won’t get into that right now. Here’s another important question: How much sitting is too much? How long and how much can you safely sit before your body starts to feel the side effects? And importantly, if you make sure to hit the gym every day and get your body moving, can you undo the effects of sitting too much?
Considering that some experts are saying that sitting is the new smoking, it’s in your best interest to be aware of this and act accordingly. After all, why spend so much time and energy on your fitness and nutrition just to undo it with excessive sitting?
Let’s dive in.
How Much Sitting is Too Much?
Here’s the (kind of frustrating) answer: There’s no magic number. Researchers haven’t yet pinpointed at what point sitting becomes downright dangerous for your health. According to the Mayo Clinic, which referenced an analysis of 13 studies, people “who sat for more than eight hours a day with no physical activity had a risk of dying similar to the risks of dying posed by obesity and smoking.” Yes, even if you’re at a healthy weight and you don’t smoke, this could still apply to you. Scary, right?
We do know that if you’re planning to stay in any one position for an expected period of time (including standing — more on that in a moment!), you need to break it up at regular intervals. For instance, if you sit at a desk all day at work, then you should set a timer to remind yourself to move for three to five minutes every hour. Stand up, stretch your limbs, do a lap around your home or office. Get away from your computer monitor and give your eyes a break, too. (Side note: This blog won’t get into the negative effects of slouching in particular, but we recommend you familiarize yourself more with how poor posture can affect your health.)
While we can’t put a concrete number on how much sitting is too much, we can say this: If you sit all day with no movement spread throughout, it’s too much, plain and simple. Human bodies weren’t meant to do this. We were built for movement, whatever kind of movement it might be — even a stroll in between classes at uni.
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Can Exercise Offset the Negative Effects of Sitting Too Much?
Ah, yes. This is one of the more popular questions. We often look for ways to undo our bad habits. For instance, some athletes believe that you can out-exercise a bad diet — one of many pesky nutrition myths that just won’t go away. Another belief? That you can undo excessive sitting with exercise.
What does the research say?
In the same analysis from the Mayo Clinic, researchers found that “60 to 75 minutes of moderately intense physical activity a day countered the effects of too much sitting.” However, they might, unfortunately, be in the minority here. (Also, 60-75 minutes is a lot.) The American Heart Association says that exercise won’t undo too much sitting, and they’re not the only ones to report this. In researching for this blog, that seemed to be the overwhelming consensus: You can’t undo the damage.
Does this mean that working out is pointless if you’re going to be sitting all day? Of course not. Physical activity still offers a number of benefits, even if you live a mostly sedentary lifestyle. However, if you sit all day, motionless and inactive, and think that you’re going to undo that damage with your evening sweat sesh, this might not be the case. You might still find yourself dealing with the ramifications of prolonged sitting, like immobility, mental health struggles, and poor circulation, just to name a few.
What About Excessive Standing?
For some of us, we spend most of the workday on our feet. You might be thinking, “Great! I don’t sit at all. I’m good to go!” Hold that thought. Excessive standing can be just as damaging as excessive sitting.
For instance, standing too much can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease. This is likely because the more you stand, blood is pooling in your legs. The pressure in your veins increases, as does oxidative stress. If you have no choice but to stand most of the day, you might consider floor mats, a workstation that switches between sitting and standing, shoe inserts, or stockings to help with blood circulation.
Okay, So Both Sitting and Standing Are Bad?
No. Too much sitting or standing, without a break, is risky. Sitting isn’t inherently dangerous, and neither is standing. Rather, doing them in excess is where you start to hit rough waters. Sound familiar? This rule applies to so much in life. Physical activity is good for your health. Too much of it can harm you. A donut won’t kill you. A dozen donuts might not be the best idea. Spending a little time scrolling through social media on your phone is fine. Spend hours on it every day, and that’s another conversation.
It’s all about finding that balance.
You don’t have to make this too difficult on yourself. If you sit most of the day, stand and move around once an hour. If you stand most of the day, sit and rest your feet for a few minutes every hour. It really can be that simply.
And importantly, understand that more than likely, you’re going to have a hard time undoing any damaging lifestyle habits simply by hitting the gym after. Rather, make a point of replacing bad habits with better ones throughout the day, and you’ll be much better off.
Lastly, we want to remind you that it’s not about being perfect. It’s about being better than you were yesterday. You don’t need to (and probably wouldn’t want to) eliminate sitting entirely from your workday. Instead, simply make sure to get up and move your body! You’ll feel better throughout the day and perform better in the gym. We call that a win.