According to a recent study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, prolonged sitting increases your risk of dying from heart disease by more than 60 percent -- even if you counter that sitting with regular exercise.
"The basic healthy functioning of our physiology depends on movement," says Nalini Chilkov, L.Ac., O.M.D., an acupuncturist and doctor of Oriental medicine in Santa Monica, Calif. When we sit for long periods of time, our muscles, tendons and ligaments shorten and our spines compress. This compression and lack of movement compromises our circulation, respiratory and digestive functions, heightening our risk for heart disease, osteoporosis and kidney dysfunction (not to mention a world of joint and muscle pain).
Unfortunately for most of us, the majority of our time is spent on our butts: in cars or trains, at work or home on the couch. But if sitting is an inevitable part of your day, don't panic. Tweaking the way you sit can counter many of the health problems that come from having to sit at all. Here's how:
1. Perch properly - Always be mindful of good posture (read: don't slump!) and use gravity to your advantage. "Press your feet into the ground and your sit bones into your chair," suggests Sherry Brourman, a physical therapist and yoga therapist in Santa Monica, Calif. "This causes a lifting up inside of you," says Brourman, and keeps you from dropping down into your joints, which will wear them--and you--out.
2. Play musical chairs - Brourman also suggests regularly switching your seats; keep two or three different chairs handy so your position is always varied. This prevents your spine and muscles from always compressing into the same shape, which can cause an accumulation of pressure in your weakest joints--making them even weaker. Try a chair with a flat surface so you can sit cross-legged, or use a large exercise ball to work on balance and core strength.
3. Move more at work - Set a timer to stretch or take a walk every 30 minutes. Don't fast-forward through TV commercials--use them as a "sit break" to get up and move around. "If you drink an 8-ounce glass of water every hour, you will have to get up to empty your bladder every hour as well," says Chilkov. Use that opportunity not just to walk to the bathroom, but also to climb a few flights of stairs or walk around the block.