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Sports medicine doctor shares the 1 exercise he recommends doing if you sit all day

Sitting for prolonged periods of time is linked to numerous health issues. Here's how often to take breaks from sitting and the best exercises to try.
/ Source: TODAY

Most of us know that sitting for too long is not healthy, but new research sheds light on the dangers of prolonged, uninterrupted sitting over time.

What are the health risks associated with sitting for long periods of time and how can you counteract the harmful effects? Here's how often to take breaks from sitting and the best exercises to move the body throughout the day.

Health risks of sitting for too long

You might've heard the phrase "sitting is the new smoking." The negative health effects of prolonged sitting are well-documented.

Over time, sitting for too long "inhibits the body's ability to deposit fat from the blood stream and impairs healthy cholesterol (HDL) from being able to clear the arteries," Chris Travers, coordinator of exercise physiology and sports performance at Cleveland Clinic, tells TODAY.com.

Decreased muscle contractions during prolonged sitting have also been shown to reduce insulin sensitivity, Travers adds.

Research has linked sitting for long periods of time with an increased risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, stroke, heart disease, kidney disease, digestive diseases and Alzheimer's disease, among other health issues, TODAY.com previously reported.

There's even evidence that sitting too much can kill you.

Individuals who spend most of their workday sitting have a 16% higher risk of dying, for any reason, according to new research recently published in JAMA Network Open.

The study, which followed over 480,000 subjects in Taiwan for nearly 13 years, also found that people who predominantly sit at work are 34% more likely to die from cardiovascular disease.

The longer you sit uninterrupted, the more harmful sitting is.

One-quarter of Americans report sitting for more than eight hours every day, according to research from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Sitting for more than a couple hours at a time is really injurious to your health,” Dr. Jordan Metzel, a sports medicine physician at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, told TODAY in a segment aired Feb. 6. “Prolonged sitting is a disease,” said Metzl.

Fortunately, there are ways to counteract these harms.

The recent study in JAMA Network Open found that people who alternated between sitting and not sitting at work did not have an increased risk of death compared to those who regularly spend their workday up and moving.

Researchers concluded that individuals who mostly sit at work could mitigate the harmful effects by switching between sitting and not sitting throughout the workday, as well as getting an extra 15 to 30 minutes per day of physical activity during leisure time.

There are a variety of products marketed to get desk workers up and moving more, from standing desks to walking pads. Whether you use one is less important than remembering to take a break from sitting still to move your body, experts say.

So how often should you take breaks from sitting?

How often to take breaks from sitting

"It's suggested to take a break every 30 or 60 minutes from sitting, (but) if you are able to take a break every 30 minutes, it will be more beneficial," says Travers.

At minimum, try to move your body every hour, says Metzl. These breaks should last for at least one minute or longer.

Taking breaks from sitting every 30 to 60 minutes and moving throughout the day is recommended for everyone, including those who exercise regularly.

Sitting still for more than an hour to 90 minutes at one time can be harmful to your health. "If you spend your day like that, it doesn’t matter whether you squeeze in a workout in the morning or at night," Keith Diaz, Ph.D., exercise physiologist and associate professor at Columbia University Medical Center, previously told TODAY.com

Best exercises after sitting too long

Any break to get up and move the body can be helpful, even if it’s just to walk to get water or coffee, says Travers.

However, your best bet to get the most out of sitting breaks is to add in some physical movement to get your heart pumping and blood flowing, the experts note.

These include stretching, walking, jumping jacks, or other calisthenic exercises. Metzl recommends exercises that work the lower body and glute muscles in your behind.

The glutes are the largest and strongest muscles in the body, said Metzl. When we sit for too long all day, the glute muscles can become inactive and weaken, resulting in "dead butt syndrome," TODAY.com previously reported.

In order to counteract this, Metzl recommends doing 10 squats per hour during sitting breaks. "It's easy, and you can do this anytime, anywhere," Metzl adds. Other exercises that can help engage the glutes include glute bridges, lunges and fire hydrants.

Exercise can reduce, but does not eliminate, the risk of sitting for too long. In addition to taking breaks, experts recommend getting regular exercise or replacing at least 30 minutes of sitting time with physical activity, TODAY.com previously reported.

Adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week or at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity per week, according to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.