How to Sit Less Every Day

Get moving to live longer

Try and get out of your chair more often. Michael Blann / Getty Images

Two major studies published in 2015 have highlighted the need to move more during the day.  Prolonged sitting can increase our risk of age-related illnesses like diabetes and heart disease - even if we get some regular exercise.  One of the papers, based on data gathered on more than 330,000 older adults over an average of 12 years and published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, concluded that being sedentary may be twice as deadly as being obese.

Staying still too long triggers a unique set of detrimental, biological processes that mimic aging; researchers have dubbed this phenomenon inactivity physiology. But beyond buying a standing desk to stay on your feet at the office, how can you sit less during the day?  Here are some tips on how to give a sedentary lifestyle a boost.

Start small:  As with most lifestyle changes, going big usually means going bust.  The smaller the habit, the greater the chance it has of becoming automatic, and staying outside of  your conscious radar (and excuses) when life gets busy.

David Alter, a senior scientist at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute and senior author of a major 2015 review published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, offers several several strategies to move more each day whether you're at work, at home, or involved in leisure activities:

  • First, track the amount of time you spend sitting and aim to cut down that time a bit each week
  • Set a goal for 2-3 fewer sedentary hours each day
  • Set an alarm on your smart phone or watch to ring every 30 minutes.  When the alarm sounds, stand up and move around for a few minutes.  Just 2 minutes of walking each hour may help mitigate the negative effects of sitting, according to a 2015 study published in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology 
  • Stand up or exercise during commercials on television
  • Look for activities that involve movement during your leisure time

Michael Evans, Associate Professor of Family Medicine and Public Health at the University of Toronto, has also been working to get people out of their chairs.  His campaign, "Make Your Day Harder", advocates tossing out labor-saving devices like the TV remote and escalators, in order to get moving.  

"Being more active just an extra half-hour each day may not be a magic pill, but it's clear that sitting as much as we do is dangerous for our health," Evans explains.  "By not taking the easy route, we can override our prevailing culture of looking for ways of not moving."

Evans offers these tips for small changes to "tweak the week" - shifts which can add up to big differences in daily activity:

  • Try to stand up for 10 minutes every hour
  • Schedule walking meetings with your colleagues rather than booking the boardroom
  • Walk around your building 4 or 5 times on your lunch hour
  • Get off a stop early on your daily commute
  • Park further away "in that spot reserved for people who want to live longer and have a higher quality of life"
  • Be wary of devices like remotes which keep you from moving (to change the thermostat, or set your house alarm or open your garage door)
  • Consider a push mower or rake, or snow shovel as low-tech but higher-movement tools
  • Use your phone or watch to remind you to get up and move more
  • Wear an activity tracker to monitor how much you're really moving

Even a simple pedometer can help keep you aware of how much activity you're achieving each day.  Since sedentary behaviour has been characterized by some scientists as taking fewer than 5,000 steps, inching up your daily target to 6,000 or 7,000 each week will have you sitting less in no time.

Find out more about the benefits of exercise for older adults:


Aviroop Biswas, Paul I. Oh, Guy E. Faulkner, Ravi R. Bajaj, Michael A. Silver, Marc S. Mitchell, and David A. Alter. "Sedentary Time and Its Association With Risk for Disease Incidence, Mortality, and Hospitalization in Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis." Ann Intern Med. 2015;162(2):123-132.

Brigid M Lynch and Neville Owen. "Too Much Sitting and Chronic Disease Risk: Steps to Move the Science Forward." Ann Intern Med. 2015;162:146-147

Srinivasan Beddhu, Guo Wei, Robin L. Marcus, Michel Chonchol, and Tom Greene. "Light-Intensity Physical Activities and Mortality in the United States General Population and CKD Subpopulation." Published online before print April 2015, doi: 10.2215/​CJN.08410814 CJASN April 2015 CJN.08410814,

Ulf Ekelund, Heather A Ward, Teresa Norat, Jian'an Luan et al. "Physical Activity and All-Cause Mortality Across Levels of Overall and Abdominal Adiposity in European Men and Women: The European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition Study (EPIC)". Am J Clin Nutr Published ahead of print January 14, 2015 doi: 10.3945/ajcn.114.100065.

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