Research keeps telling us that sitting is bad for our health. Here's what experts recommend to get moving more.

Here's how to move more when you're stuck at a desk. (Getty Creative)
Here's how to move more when you're stuck at a desk. (Getty Creative)

New research confirms it: Sitting for long periods of time is bad for your health. Following a November 2023 study which found that any activity is better for your cardiovascular health than sitting, last week revealed that people who spent most of their time sitting at work had a 16% increased risk of dying from any cause, and a 34% higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.

The catch is that for many of us sitting is also built into our lives thanks to jobs that tether us to laptops and office chairs. (And when we come home from work, the couch looks sooo enticing.) So how do we get off our butts and actually up and moving? Here's what experts recommend.

How much movement do we need if we sit all day?

First — how much movement do we need to offset the negative effects of sitting? Keith Diaz, an associate professor of behavioral medicine at Columbia University Medical Center who studies the importance of movement, tells Yahoo Life that the ideal is to “move every half hour for five minutes.” If you did that, he says, you would “lower your blood sugar levels by almost 60%, and you would reduce your blood pressure by four to five points compared to if you sat.” This movement isn’t anything extreme either — his research found that a walk of about 2 mph was enough to counteract the effects of sitting.

“Your body needs regular activation,” Diaz tells Yahoo Life. “Your muscles need to be regularly contracted for them to optimally function and do the things that they’re supposed to do, like regulate our sugar levels, and the lipids or fats in our blood.”

Yet Diaz is aware that moving for five minutes every half hour isn’t doable for everyone — what if you’re stuck in an hour-long work meeting, or a three-hours-plus Oppenheimer screening? According to Diaz’s team’s research, even moving for just one minute every hour lowered blood pressure just as much as the five minutes every half hour. While blood sugar did not improve compared to when sitting, Diaz notes that “there were some health benefits.” That’s why Diaz tells people “every half hour to an hour, take a movement break.” If you can do more than a minute every hour, fantastic, and if not, at least you’re getting something in.

How to sneak movement into your sedentary day

So how exactly do you get this movement in? Experts agree that it’s about sneaking in what Diaz calls “movement snacks” — tiny bursts of activity — rather than trying to fit in a long stretch of exercise. Los Angeles-based personal trainer Kollins Ezekh tells Yahoo Life you may want to try “active meetings” during your work day. That could mean chatting with a co-worker on a walk rather than at their desk or in a meeting room, or listening in on an all-hands while you walk your dog.

Stretching while at your desk as often as possible, or doing simple, nondisruptive exercises like standing marches, can also help you sneak in more movement, he says. And, if you can't seem to get away with these kinds of at-desk workouts, you may want to work in more frequent water or bathroom breaks.

Exercise also helps — but it's not enough on its own to ward off the potential negative health effects associated with prolonged sitting, Diaz warns. “It's not as simple as 'I exercise for the day, I can check that off and I don't have to move the rest of the day,'" he says. Even marathon runners who sit for much of the day, he notes, are at a greater risk for things like heart disease, cancer and early death. The ideal, he says, is that you are both “an exerciser and a mover throughout the day.”

Tracking your steps can help you see how much you're moving

One way to track your movement throughout the day is by looking at how many steps you’re taking. Just don’t rely on that overhyped 10,000-step number as your ideal: Personal trainer Tony Coffey, host of the podcast Fitness Stuff (for normal people), tells Yahoo Life that “setting a step count goal should be relative, as depending on your job, setting a step goal like 10,000 might not be realistic.” Instead, he recommends looking at whatever your current step count is, and aim to increase it by 2,000 to 3,000 steps. “This could be done by simply adding a 10-minute walk after each meal, or by going for a short 30-minute walk after your work day is over before you start your evening activities,” he explains.

A walking treadmill beneath a standing desk, Coffey says, “can be especially helpful if your job makes it hard to step away from the computer all day to step outside for walks throughout the day.” Just make sure that you are able to do your work and keep your balance, lest it be too disruptive.

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