Longevity Hacks

You Are Probably Sitting Wrong — Doing It Right Could Significantly Boost Your Health

We need a sitting equivalent for hot girl walks.

woman sitting and stretching at her desk
Getty Images

The internet has a knack for assigning whimsical euphemisms to daily tedium. From hot girl walks to stupid little mental health check-ins, the things we do to keep our meat suits alive are more bearable with some silliness.

So, what about sitting? People in office jobs sit for 46 hours per week on average, often hunched over like cooked shrimp. There must be a silly name for a fun, healthy version of sitting, which slowly takes its toll on the body and mind without intervention. Could the alternative be something called hot girl sitting? Seated intervals? Sitting, but sexy? Whatever is the opposite of curling over a desk like a goblin picking through debris for treasure.

No matter what you call sitting, how you practice it is paramount. Kinesiologist at the University of Calgary Nicole Culos-Reed breaks down the science of what this habit might look like, no matter what moniker the internet hive-mind may give it.

LONGEVITY HACKS is a regular series from Inverse on science-backed strategies to live better, healthier, and longer without medicine. Get more in our Hacks Index.

What does sitting do to your body?

Even if you’re an Olympic sitter — knees at 90-degree angles and spine stiff as a pole — staying seated for more than even just one hour can mess with your body. Since you’re not moving, blood circulation slows, and if you’re hunched over, then you’re collapsing your torso, which means your diaphragm and lungs don’t have as much room to expand when you inhale, taking in less oxygen.

“As we start to slouch, we're closing off our lungs, and there's no way you can take that full deep breath that we know is so good for our mental health benefits, physical functioning, and stress reduction,” Culos-Reed tells Inverse.

Too much downtime means that our muscles don’t regulate glucose and fat levels in the blood as well. Inactive muscles won’t utilize blood sugar or get rid of fat, so both will be stored throughout the body. Blood also pools in the feet from too much sitting, causing pressure to build up in the legs and permanently damaging blood vessels.

Prolonged sitting also compresses the spinal discs, which can lead to chronic back pain.

Sitting for more than six hours continuously has been linked to a higher risk for a slew of comorbid conditions and adverse events such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and premature death. Scheduling a break to stand up once or twice an hour is the sweet spot, Culos-Reed says. “I wouldn't go much longer than 30 to 45 minutes before something gets you moving.”

Remedies come in the form of regular standing breaks and attention to active sitting.

What is active sitting?

Active sitting, Culos-Reed says, is about “recruiting more of the muscles that you need for balance,” such as your core to keep the body engaged, even just a bit. While fancy accoutrements like standing and walking desks and wobble chairs have their benefits, nobody needs to drop a ton of money to add active sitting to their routine. (Culos-Reed says that university students will often use their textbooks as laptop stands — which arguably still cost thousands of dollars.)

A part of healthy sitting is knowing when to stop. Even if that means scheduling a standing break into a calendar, stretching your legs does your body good. Those who work from standing desks will want to get a little movement throughout the day, too, since blood also pools in their legs. Prolonged sitting, Culos-Reed says, can also compress some muscles, like your quads and hip flexors, from staying in one position for too long.

Culos-Reed offers a few exercises to help our bodies sit better.

  • Stand next to your chair, lift your toes to the seat of the chair, and press your hip flexors forward. This stretches your hip flexors and quads.
  • As you move from sitting to standing, push your hips forward to stretch the hip flexors and quads. While you’re sitting, move one foot forward and flex your toes upward while keeping your heel on the ground for a hamstring stretch.
  • Do shoulder rolls forward and back to discourage slouching.
  • Make circles with your feet to promote circulation.
  • Draw your chin down to your chest to stretch the back of your neck.
  • Sit up from your core — Culos-Reed says people tend to over-rely on their hip flexors, causing soreness.

Remember: You don’t have to do this perfectly to feel the benefits. Even if you take one or two standing breaks throughout the day, you’re breaking up uninterrupted sedentary time throughout the day.

Having a built-in break in the mornings and afternoons dedicated to getting out of your seat could even serve as a tiny oasis. Research also shows the brain benefits from microbreaks taken throughout the day, even if that means staring out the window for eight seconds. Maybe forego an active break if you’re on a roll with work or have a tight deadline, but Culos-Reed says ultimately these standing breaks will help rather than break focus.

Perhaps these check-ins become an oasis throughout your day. The same way you might look forward to checking Twitter or Instagram, you could also look forward to checking in with your body. Or combine them — only check social media while you’re standing or walking to accomplish more during your break.

And don’t worry, there’s still a way to sit actively, and bisexually. Part of active sitting is varied movement, making sure you’re not looking like Rodin’s The Thinker all day long. If your body calls for a little variation, demanding that you swing your legs over the arm of a chair or pretzel your legs for a little bit, that helps incorporate a little bit of movement. Changing positions one to four times an hour can help – just don’t stay in an uncomfy position for too long, and make sure you’re getting enough oxygen.

Sitting better in the long run

Sitting actively and taking standing breaks decreases the risk for all those comorbid conditions — type 2 diabetes, stroke, heart disease, and more. It can, indeed, have a positive effect on our stupid little mental health, too, Culos-Reed says.

We don’t always treat our bodies well. Sometimes we even treat them as indestructible vessels, peepholes for our brains. But they’re not. Our bodies are very destructible, organic, meat suits that decay faster when we don’t take care of them.

Taking a little control over quotidian activity can help tremendously. Maybe, if nothing else, you can get to the end of the day knowing that you did your body right by taking a few standing breaks, going for a stupid little mental health walk, and sitting like the hottest person in the room.

Related Tags