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31 Days

Day 12

Stop Sitting So Much

Office worker sitting at their desk
Office worker sitting at their desk

Think about your typical workday: it likely starts with a commute—in a car, bus or train—then goes into a long stretch of time at your desk. At lunch, we're sitting down again, likely hunched over our phones. Then back in front of a computer. Later, you're sitting at a table or maybe on a barstool for dinner. Followed by slouching onto the sofa for a few hours to unwind. But despite the growing alarm about how "sitting is the new smoking," Americans are sitting more than ever before. Due in large part because people are spending more leisure time in front of various screens.

Of course, we've heard that our comfy chairs are killing us softly for some time now, but according to Yin Cao, a cancer epidemiologist at Washington University, there hasn't been much data on just how sedentary Americans have become. She co-authored a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association that analyzed data from the National Health Nutrition Examination Survey. Cao and her team found that, for both adults and teens, the total time sitting increased by about an hour per day from 2007 to 2016 (from about 6.4 hours to 8.2 hours per day).

While it's easy to blame binge watching for this increase, the researchers found that time spent sitting and watching TV or movies was generally stable between 2001 and 2016 (around two hours a day), but as time went on, people in all age groups reported spending more of their leisure time sitting while using computers. Cao says that despite all the warnings in the media, most people are likely unaware that sitting too much is actually hazardous to their health, because "there's no clear intervention" to address this issue in most schools or workplaces.

So what's really happening when we sit down for a while? Because we can try to get up more but there's still plenty of sitting to be done in a day. So how can we combat the effects to ensure we're not doing any irreversible damage? We've consulted the experts for a simple game plan.

When we sit ...

Electrical activity within the body drops by a third as soon as your ass hits the chair. This means that muscle activity basically stops. Secondly, your natural calorie-burning rates fall to just one calorie per minute. Your lungs have less space to expand as you breathe when you're in a seated position, so they physically produce less oxygen. Plus, fitness experts argue that sitting too much for too long can cause the larger muscles in the hip area to physically shorten (and stay shorter), even after you've stood up. If you've ever felt that tightness in your hips, groin and butt after a long sit, you know what this feels like.

Make sure to stand up
now and then ...

One of the most beloved features on an Apple Watch is the reminder to stand if you've been sitting consistently for an hour. If you don't have an Apple Watch or activity tracker, you can always set a reminder on your phone or computer to encourage you to get up at least once an hour to stretch your legs and go grab a glass of water. It takes just two minutes and a study published by the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology found this could lower your risk of premature death by 33%.

But you don't need
a standing desk ...

Over the past few years, standing desks have become increasingly popular, partly to combat such sedentary harms, but this seemingly quick fix might not be the answer. There's actually little scientific proof that they improve people's health. Dr. David Rempel, a professor of medicine at the University of California, who's studied the issue says that alternating standing while using a computer could help with lower back or neck pains, but it won't alleviate the cardiovascular trouble that comes with sitting. He told the New York Times, "people shouldn't be under the illusion that they're getting exercise just by standing up."

Instead, take a
quick walk ...

Many health groups, including the American Heart Association, recommend that people at work take frequent walking breaks. Jaume Padilla, assistant professor of nutrition and exercise physiology at the University of Missouri, studies the vascular damage done by prolonged bouts of sitting. "When you sit for six straight hours, or the majority of an eight-hour work day, blood flow to your legs is greatly reduced," he said. "We also found that just 10 minutes of walking after sitting for an extended time reversed the detrimental consequences."

You could rethink
your commute ...

Consider biking to work. The added cardio starts and ends your workday with a generous dose of moderate exercise that will offset many of sitting's life-shortening risks. Or, if you take a train or bus, try standing for the entirety of the ride. You'll be engaging your core and leg muscles as the train or bus moves, which does a body good.


An Indian man, Akshinthala Seshu Babu, holds the world record for standing motionless for 36 hours and 45 minutes.