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Building movement into a sedentary day

A consensus statement published in June 2015 in

A consensus statement published in June 2015 in the British Journal of Sports Medicine recommended that people in desk jobs aim initially for two hours of standing or light walking each day, gradually building to four hours of nonsedentary activity during the day. Credit: Fotolia

You've probably heard that "sitting is the new smoking" -- the looming health risk in the computer age. A proliferation of studies over the past decade has linked prolonged stretches of sedentariness to an uptick in the risk of diabetes, heart disease, even cancer.

A consensus statement published last month in the British Journal of Sports Medicine recommended that people in desk jobs aim initially for two hours of standing or light walking each day, gradually building to four hours of nonsedentary activity during the day.

If those targets seem extreme, take heart. They're meant to be accumulated over the course of 16 waking hours, says the statement's lead author, John Buckley, a professor of applied exercise science at Britain's University of Chester and chair of the International Council of Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation. If you're starting from zero, aim to reach the two-hour goal over the course of a month and then move on to the four-hour target over the next three to four months.

Bouts of activity can be short. If you're just standing, you need to do so for five or more minutes at a time, Buckley says, but if you're moving, two minutes is enough to give benefits.

Still, the question remains: How do you fit that many hours of non-sitting into a desk job? Ideally, you should avoid sitting for more than half an hour at a time, and one simple way to do this is to set a timer that reminds you to stand up and move a little every 30 minutes, says Neville Owen, head of the Behavioural Epidemiology lab at the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute in Melbourne, Australia.

These bouts of exercise don't need to disrupt your work, says John Thyfault, an associate professor at the University of Kansas Medical Center who has studied the physiology of sedentary behavior. If you make a habit of using a printer in another room or the restroom on a different floor, you'll automatically incorporate some motion into your day.

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