You’re right to be concerned. Decades spent stooped over a laptop risk putting your health, fitness and mobility on the fast track to early retirement. Sitting down for more than eight hours a day can put you at a higher risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and even premature death, according to a study in the journal JAMA Cardiology. Of course, that’s not especially helpful to know if your job involves work that can only really be done seated.
So, how much exercise should you be aiming for? A Norwegian School of Sport Sciences meta-analysis of nine studies suggests 30 to 40 minutes of ‘moderate to vigorous intensity’ exercise as a possible antidote if most of your day is spent sat down. That means anything to get your heart pumping hard, from hiking or cycling to a gritty dumbbell circuit. If you can invest in a standing desk – or swap a few of your meetings for walk-and-talks – that figure will drop. As little as 11 minutes of exercise each day might suffice if you’re seated for less than 8.5 hours in total.
That’s not an excuse to hunker down all day, however – not unless you plan on climbing the corporate ladder with a banana-shaped spine. Sitting for lengthy unbroken periods is associated with a cluster of additional issues, including back and neck pain, tight hip flexors and increased blood pressure. It can also restrict the flow of blood and oxygen to your brain, leading to fatigue.
For more effective health insurance, tear yourself away from Excel every half an hour and sink your teeth into a few tactical exercise ‘snacks’. Performing 15 body-weight squats every 30 minutes has been shown to preserve muscle mass in people who sit for 7.5 hours a day, according to a University of Toronto study. Or, to spare your dignity on those days that you’re not WFH, march up and down the stairs instead. And the bonus is it could boost your productivity, too: sitting for more than 20 minutes at a time hampers your focus, the University of Illinois found, with fidgeting linked to better concentration. Walk away to waste less time.
Scarlett Wrench is the Senior Editor at Men’s Health UK.
With more than 12 years’ experience as a health and lifestyle editor, Scarlett has a keen interest in new science, emerging trends, mental well-being, and food and nutrition. For Men’s Health, she has carried out extensive research into areas such as wellness in the workplace, male body image, the paradoxes of modern masculinity, and mental health among school-age boys.
Her words have also appeared in Women’s Health, Runner’s World and The Sunday Times.