Sitting is on the rise. Desk jobs have become more common, and digital entertainment continues to grow. Whether you’re a desk jockey, binge-watching your favourite show or scrolling through social media, it’s mostly done while sitting. So it’s no surprise that the time spent being physically inactive in Canada has increased.

Think about your own activity levels. How much time do you spend sitting or lying down? According to a recent Canadian study, you might think you’re more active than you really are. On average, Canadian adults self-reported 3.2 hours per day of recreational screen time and 5.7 hours per day of sitting time. However, according to the devices people wore on their bodies, they were actually sedentary–which is the time spent sitting or being inactive–for an average of 9.8 hours per day.

The Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines recommend that adults keep the time they’re sedentary to eight hours or less a day. This includes three hours or less of recreational screen time. If you’re over that amount, you might be one of the 83% of Canadians with a sedentary lifestyle. 

Why sitting too much can be bad for you

There are many negative health effects of regularly sitting for too many hours in a day, and they’re usually thought of as ‘hidden’ or ‘silent’ because they’re not obvious. It’s even been said that sitting is the new smoking. Nowadays everyone knows the negative impact of smoking, but not many people know the dangers of not getting enough movement throughout your day.

Here’s a quick run-down of some of the risks involved with sitting too much:

  • Increased risk of heart disease
  • Increased risk of type 2 diabetes
  • Increased pain in your back, hips, and legs 
  • Weight gain
  • Increased risk of cancer
  • Increased risk of circulation problems that cause varicose veins and blood clots
  • Negative impact on your mental health

How to avoid sitting ALL day at work

Smiling man at standing desk

If you’re one of the millions of Canadians that work a desk job, you might be starting to worry at this point in the article. So, here’s the good news. Any amount of activity you do will help offset the negative effects of sitting.

Even though research suggests 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week, you don’t need to consider that a minimum requirement; anything you do to be active will help.

Here are some simple ways to add more movement to your day:

  • Walk around while talking on the phone
  • Take standing breaks every 30 minutes to an hour. Standing for just 2 to 3 minutes is beneficial, but it’s even better to stretch your legs while standing
  • Invite your coworkers to go for a walk-and-talk for meetings (plus you get to say, ‘Let’s walk and talk,’ which is pretty cool)
  • Use a standing desk

Exercises and stretches for desk jobs

Sitting for long periods of time can make your legs, hips, back, and shoulders feel sore and achy. Getting up to move and stretch these body parts throughout the day is an effective way to offset the associated risks of sitting at a desk all day. Moving for 30 minutes throughout the day can help you live longer, even if only 2 or 3 minutes at a time.

Here are simple exercises and stretches you can do beside or at your desk. 

Exercises to strengthen glutes, hips and legs

Squat

Sitting for too long can weaken your glutes and legs. Squats are an excellent way to increase leg strength, stability, and flexibility in your hips, glutes, hamstrings, and calves.

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and flat on the floor.
  • Squat down as if sitting in a chair until your thighs are parallel to the floor, then stand back up. 
  • Start with one set of 12 and build from there.

Lunges

These are great for your core, butt and legs. They also help to improve posture and balance, which are important to maintain as you age.

  • Stand in a split stance with your right foot roughly 2 to 3 feet in front of your left foot. Have your hands resting on your hips.
  • Bend your knees and lower your body until your back knee is a few inches from the floor. At the bottom of the lunge, your front thigh should be parallel to the ground. Keep your weight evenly distributed between both legs.
  • Push back up to the starting position while keeping your weight on the heel of your front foot. 
  • Aim for 2 sets of 10 lunges per leg and build from there.

Calf raises

Work the sometimes overlooked calf muscles necessary for walking, running and jumping. 

  • Stand on the balls of your feet. 
  • Raise your heels as high as you can, tightening your calf muscles. 
  • Slowly lower your heels until you’re back at the starting position.
  • Aim for 2 sets of 15 calf raises and build from there.

Stretches to do at your desk while sitting

Shoulder shrugs

Sitting at a desk can often cause slouching, leading to poor posture. Shoulder shrugs are a simple way to reduce shoulder and neck pain, release tension, and improve posture.

  • Put your feet flat on the ground, allow your arms to hang at your side and straighten your back.
  • Inhale and hold your breath while bringing your shoulders straight up towards your ears. Squeeze them tightly for around 2 seconds.
  • Exhale and let your shoulders drop back down slowly. 
  • Aim for 2 sets of 10 shoulder shrugs and build from there.

Upper back stretch

This upper back stretch will stretch the muscles between your shoulder blades as well as the traps and shoulders.

  • Sit upright with your feet flat on the floor and raise your hands straight up over your head.
  • Slowly bend forward until your forearms are flat on the desk. Your palms should be flat on the desk.
  • Hold for about 5 seconds before raising back to the seated position. 

Hip stretch

Sitting causes your hip flexor muscles to shorten, which can lead to problems with your hip joints. This hip stretch is a great way to increase the mobility of the hips and stretch the lower back.

  • Sit upright with your feet flat on the floor. Raise one foot and rest it on the opposite knee.
  • Lean forward slowly with your back straight until you feel a stretch. Hold the position for 10-15 seconds. 
  • Do the stretch with the other leg.

Getting active can help you feel healthier and happier

Three men climbing stairs

If you’re like the majority of Canadians and inactivity has crept into your lifestyle lately, you can start today to make small changes towards adding more movement to your day. Start with a 20-minute walk at lunch, and stand for 2 to 3 minutes every hour. Remember that the most important thing you can do is move a little more each day.

Do you think you’ll add some of these exercises and stretches to your workday? Let us know how it goes in the comments below!

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