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How to Combat Prolonged Sitting

by Careen Joscelyn, RN, MSN, CPT, GFI

Our society is more technologically advanced than ever. Unfortunately, these advancements have resulted in sitting more than ever, so we have to ask ourselves -Are we doing more harm than good?

It is estimated that the average person sits for approximately 7.7 hours daily, with some reaching approximately 15 hours a day. This almost seems surreal, but if you think about commutes to and from work, desk jobs, meal times, and evening television, then these sitting hours add up rather quickly.

What is the problem?

The problem is prolonged sitting is wreaking havoc on our health. It not only has negative postural effects on the human body, causing:

  • forward rounded shoulders

  • tight hip flexors

  • forward neck positioning

  • shortened anterior deltoid (shoulder) and pectoral (chest) muscles

It also negatively impacts our health as well. According to the Mayo Clinic and Yale Medicine, excess sitting leads to increased risk of:

  • cancer

  • cardiovascular disease

  • elevated blood pressure

  • cholesterol

  • glucose levels

  • increased deposits of abdominal fat

  • obesity

  • depression

  • dementia

  • diabetes

In addition, these postural effects create muscular imbalances that lead to chronic pain. For example, tightened hip flexors create a strain on the lumbar (lower) spine resulting in low back pain.

What has changed?

Compare the technological differences from decades ago to our modern society. Prior to the 1920's, clothes were being washed by hand in sinks and basins, which would expend a lot of energy (calories).

Now we are using washing machines and driers that complete the job in more than half the time, with less energy expenditure. In terms of convenience, this is excellent, but couple these technological advancements with a high calorie diet and a predominantly sedentary lifestyle, and it isn't a surprise that approximately 73% of Americans are considered overweight and obese by medical standards.

Surely, none of us would prefer the previous method of washing clothes and trade in our modern washing machines and driers. It simply means that we have to be creative and proactive in finding ways to move more and expend more calories throughout our day.

What can we do?

Given this information, what can we do to combat prolonged sitting when the society we created for ourselves promotes and favors sedentary behaviors? Try the following tips below and take charge of your health:

  1. Take breaks. Try taking a 5 minutes break every 30 minutes or 10 minutes break every hour to help counter some of the negative effects of prolonged sitting. This can be accomplished by performing exercises at your desk, and/or taking a walk to the water cooler, which will help with hydration and get you moving as well.

  2. Walk or bike when you can. Driving has become such a routine convenience that walking rarely crosses our minds. Instead of driving to pick up your morning coffee or driving your children to school, how about walking instead, if safe? Walking more and driving less also reduces pollution, caused by vehicle emissions, on the environment, and incorporating the children will teach them the importance of being active. If the distance is a little too far for a walk, try riding a bike instead.

  3. Exercise while watching tv and searching social media. This is my personal favorite! Streaming and binge watching has become popular past times in America. However, we do not have to sit while watching these programs. Try riding a recumbent bike or walking on the treadmill while viewing. You would be amazed how quickly time flies when you are walking or cycling while engrossed in your favorite programs.

  4. Exercise during commercial breaks. If it is too much to exercise during an entire program, then how about during commercial breaks? You could try calisthenic exercises (body weight) and do sit-ups, pushups, or weightlifting. This is also a great opportunity to get some cardiorespiratory activities in like, stair-climbing, walking, or cycling. Anything to get you up and moving around is an excellent choice.

  5. Walking meetings. We spend a lot of time in meetings, especially in the corporate world. How about taking the meeting outside for a walking meeting, if safe, and record it. Minutes can be transcribed and emailed to recipients afterwards. This is also applicable for those working from home. You could try walking on the treadmill or cycling during an online meeting or call.

  6. Walk versus email. If appropriate, you could get up and walk to your co-worker's desk to verbally deliver a message instead of email or text. Your co-worker may appreciate the visit and perhaps you could start an office trend.

  7. Standing desks. If applicable and your employer will allow, opt for a standing desk. This is simply a desk raised to standing height as an alternative to sitting. There are also under desk treadmills and cycling devices, so you could move while working.

  8. Walk the dog. Instead of letting your furry friend out in the backyard take your friend for a walk. Our fur babies need exercise as well. Unfortunately, as we become more sedentary, so do they, so grab your buddy and go for a walk. If you do not have a furry friend, perhaps a neighbor that has a difficult time walking would love to have their fur baby walked.

  9. After dinner walk. How about going for an evening walk after dinner with the family? Not only will you decrease sitting, but walking after dinner has beneficial effects on blood sugar. This is also a good opportunity to bond as a family and another opportunity to set an example for the children.

  10. Walk during lunch breaks. If you can do so safely, try taking a walk during your lunch break. To help facilitate this and make it a habit, you could keep a pair of sneakers under your desk. Grab a colleague or more and you're off!

  11. Take the stairs. Taking the stairs versus the elevator, is another great tip. This may not be an option for some, but if your office or destination is a few flights up and you are physically able to do so, try taking the stairs instead. As previously stated, stair climbing is a great cardiorespiratory exercise.

  12. Get up and stretch. Since prolonged sitting causes the muscles of the front of the body to shorten/tighten and the opposing muscles on the back side of the body to lengthen. It is important to stretch the tightened muscles (i.e chest, hip flexors) and strengthen the lengthened/weakened muscles (i.e. upper back, buttocks). This will help mitigate the pain and discomfort associated with muscular imbalances.

So now what?

People often tell me that they don't have time to work out. I get it, as a society we are very busy, but if we truly evaluate our day and look at how much time is spent on social media, streaming, and other sedentary behaviors, we can use these opportunities to include more movement. Remember, we do not have to sit while doing these activities.

I also follow these tips, especially exercising while watching programming and walking instead of rides. Being visually impaired, I rely on my legs and feet for transportation. I could choose to utilize public transportation or services like Uber or Lyft, but I choose to walk for my health. My personal rule is, if the destination is two miles or less, and the terrain is safe, then I will walk, or ride my bike.

These are just a few tips to reduce prolonged sitting throughout your day. Try getting creative and see what you can come up with! You will be amazed as to how many more steps you will accumulate and calories you will burn. Share your ideas with family and friends and support your fellow movers. You will inspire others and improve your health too! If you need help and would like to reverse the effects of prolonged sitting, reach out for assistance. You can also check out links to supportive websites under the resources tab of my website. I would love to work with you to find more ways to become more active throughout your day. Move More Often!


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2023). Obesity and overweight.

Cleveland Clinic. (2023). How walking after eating impacts your blood sugar. Cleveland

Laskowski, E. (2022, July 13). What are the risks of sitting too much?

What you can do to reduce pollution from vehicles and engines. (2023, August 9). EPA.Gov.

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