“Sitting is the new smoking”: Here’s why we all need to get up and moving today

Young woman walking up stairs

When it comes to giving excuses for not exercising, one of the most common is ‘I have to work. I don’t have time’. But with more and more of us spending our working lives in sedentary jobs, it’s more important than ever that we get up and moving, as Lizzy Williamson’s new book, Two-Minute Moves explains:

Working, working, day and night

Work can be a major inhibitor to getting moving. Five million of Australia’s 7.7 million full-time workers put in more than 40 hours of work per week. Not only do a huge number of us feel we don’t have time for physical activity outside of work, many of us are barely moving during our work hours too. Nearly half of employed Australians sit all day at work. We’re facing never-ending deadlines, and since we all want to clock off on time so we can maintain some semblance of work/life balance, we put our bottoms on our chairs, crane in to our computers and hardly move until our work is done.

Sitting still is making us tired. It might sound counterintuitive, but feeling alert and awake is tied to moving around. When you sit still for a long period of time, your body functions slow down until you enter something a little like a ‘sleep’ mode. It’s normal to feel tired when you finally stand up, because your body has to switch modes and start providing you with the energy to move again. No surprise, then, that we get to the end of the day feeling exhausted, and instead of having the energy to work out, we collapse on the couch to binge-watch our favourite Netflix show.

Across the board, the average recommended level of moderate exercise – such as walking or jogging – is 30 minutes a day. But research is now telling us that even regular exercisers might not be doing enough to offset the health risks of sitting down at a desk all day.

Sitting is the new smoking

Many things can go wrong in our bodies when we sit for hours and hours. We are more susceptible to weight gain as our metabolism slows. Not only are our muscles slacking off when we sit, but our heart also doesn’t have to work as hard, which allows fatty acid to build up and clog our arteries.

In fact, people who are very sedentary or sit most of the day are twice as likely to have heart disease as those who are active throughout the day. Then there is the effect on the organ we need to keep in top condition when we work: our brains. Like other parts of the body, when we sit down for extended periods of time, our brain function slows.

A sedentary lifestyle increases the risk of high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes and high cholesterol, all of which are associated with an increased risk of cognitive decline and dementia. Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter if you are heading to the gym every morning or getting out for a regular walk every night, studies tell us that if you spend most of the rest of the day sitting – on the bus, in front of your computer, at home on the couch – you are still putting yourself at greater risk of a range of health issues.

The small steps to getting more done

But how do we make exercise happen in our jam-packed work day? Isn’t the best strategy to buckle down and work, work, work so you have time to exercise later? If you want your brain to function at its best, you need to keep refilling its tank throughout your day. Along with brain-boosting food, the best fuel comes from movement – and two minutes is all you need to have your body, brain and even your loved ones thanking you. There’s some evidence that regularly standing and walking during the day, even for short amounts of time, can drastically increase your lifespan.

Two-Minutes Moves Lizzy Williamson

Workplaces are getting the message that we need to get up off our chairs. Advice to break up sitting time with movement and standing (which still uses more muscles than sitting) is included in Australia’s Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines. UK guidelines recommend that desk-based office workers spend at least two hours of their working day standing or moving, and to gradually progress to four hours. As counter-productive as it might sound to add more obligations to your already jam-packed work day, doing so can actually help you get more done.

Getting up every hour (or half-hour) to do some Two-Minute Moves might drag you away from your computer for 16 or 32 minutes in an eight-hour day, but it helps you spend your time more productively and creatively, with more energy and focus. Add in some walking meetings and time standing and you’ll easily make up the required hours. Chances are you’ll end up craving it, thanks to the results you get when you take that time.


This post is an edited extract from Two-Minute Moves by Lizzy Williamson, published by Affirm Press.

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