How to Sit Less: Everyday Hacks to Increase Your Daily Movement

Woman looking at smart phone while walking

Getty Images / The Good Brigade

A sedentary lifestyle may increase your risks of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and early death.However, sitting at a desk or in front of a computer is an unavoidable part of our day for many of us.

Even for those without desk jobs, sedentary behavior is standard. You may sit to listen to lectures or work in study groups at school. You might watch a video, read, or play games while seated for long periods at home.

You can break up long periods of sitting and reduce the time you spend sitting all day with these tips. Read on to learn how to work activity into your workday or your at-home time.

Get Moving at Work

Eating lunch at your desk and skipping work breaks could kill you. They add to the sitting time that increases your health risks.

Research suggests that sitting may promote certain health problems. You need to move around for two to five minutes at least every hour to boost wellness.

To sit less at work, make yourself step away from the desk and take active breaks during the workday.

  • Don't make it convenient: That Keurig machine on your desk makes it too easy to spend the day sitting. Get up to grab a coffee, water, or soft drink. Make a habit of taking a stroll to a break room, water cooler, coffee stand, or cafeteria.
  • Use a smaller cup: You'll need to go for a refill more often with a smaller water bottle or coffee cup. That will force you to get up.
  • Eat lunch and take breaks with a co-worker: Team up, and you will have the social pressure to force both of you to get up and get away from the desk.
  • Drink more water: Staying hydrated is good for your body, and many people don't drink enough water. Not only will you have to get up more often to refill your glass or water bottle, but you will also likely have to take more restroom breaks.
  • Move while you microwave: If you heat your meal or snack, spend that time moving around. You can go for a brisk stroll down the hall and back, meander around the room, or even spend that minute or two dancing.
  • Active food prep: Instead of bringing a ready-to-eat sandwich or snack, make yourself take a minute or two to assemble it while standing at a counter or table. Become a food photographer and spend an extra minute making it Instagram-worthy and admiring it from all angles.

Turn break times into active times to not only just get up and move but to get moderately-intense physical activity. Do this twice a day, and you will achieve the minimum daily physical activity recommendation. Just getting up is good, but you can use your lunchtime for a 30-minute walk as recommended to reach daily physical activity goals.

Short Activity Break Ideas

Get up and move for one to five minutes every half hour to break up sitting time and reduce your health risks of sitting.

It's a good idea to prepare mentally and physically by dressing for activity. If you find yourself making an excuse that your heels or dress shoes make walking or standing painful, it's time to switch to comfort shoes or bring along a pair of sneakers to slip into. If you're afraid to move because your skirt or pants are too tight, loosen up so you can move freely.

Add activity to your routine by choosing to move whenever you have the option. For example, don't text or call co-workers who are just a short walk away, get up and pay a visit instead. Stand up every time you read or write a text, make calls, or press send for an outgoing email.

Restructure meetings by adding an active component if you can. Take walking meetings instead of sitting and make stretch breaks part of long meetings or presentations. Meet colleagues at their office/cubicle instead of your own, or suggest a meeting spot at the coffee shop, so you both have to get up and walk there.

Set a Movement Timer

Try setting a timer each hour for a 5 to 10-minute break in which you move around. Go for a short walk, stretch in your chair or office space, and refill your water bottle.

Monitor Your Activity

It's easy to get caught up in work or watching videos and not realize you've been sitting for over an hour. As more is known about the health risks of sitting still, inactivity alerts are being built into activity monitors, smartwatches, and apps. A warning message, vibrating alarm, or audible beep is likely to get your attention and prompt you to get up and move.

Studies found that walking for two minutes after every 20 minutes of sitting improved glucose control and the body's insulin response after a meal and improved resting blood pressure. Another found that five minutes of walking each hour improved blood flow in the legs. 

Polar activity monitors give inactivity alerts if you have been seated or inactive for 45 minutes to an hour. The Jawbone UP can give a vibrating inactivity alert for whatever period you choose. Newer models of Fitbit have vibrating alarms when you've been inactive during the hour and haven't achieved 250 steps.

Devices and apps vary whether any movement counts as an active break or you have to stay active for one or more minutes. When you get an inactivity alert, get up and move for two to five minutes to break up the sitting time.

Activity monitors can motivate you by tracking how many hours you were active for at least 250 steps or several minutes and give you trophies or badges for being active more hours of the day. Or they can shame you with how many hours you got an inactivity alert (Polar).

Try a Treadmill Desk

Don't sit while you work, put your laptop on a treadmill desk and walk slowly while you work. If you use a tablet, you probably just prop it on the console of most treadmills without modification.

Treadmill manufacturers are producing treadmills without standard consoles, so you can use them with a standing desk. They are also making all-in-one treadmill desks. If you have a treadmill, you can build your own treadmill desk or buy a kit that will fit over most treadmills.

The key to using a treadmill desk while still working productively is to walk slowly, at one mile per hour or less. This light activity will reduce your health risks of sitting still. It will also burn more calories throughout the day. Studies have shown that over the course of a year, using a treadmill desk may help you lose a few pounds.

You can also use a treadmill while watching videos or gaming. Slow walking beats sitting for recreational activities as well as work.

Use an Under Desk Cycle

If you don't have space or money for a treadmill desk, a cycling desk, under-desk cycle ore elliptical pedal machine is a great option to keep your muscles active as you work at a desk.

As with a treadmill, you may be able to modify your existing stationary bike or bike trainer to use a tablet or a laptop on an over-bike shelf while slowly cycling. FitDesk makes a desk attachment to fit most stationary bikes.

Cycling and pedaling use the major muscle groups in your legs, and logically they are light activity and not sitting still. A study used an under-desk elliptical pedal device for sedentary, overweight office workers and compared them to a control group in the same company. Lead researcher Lucas J. Carr, Ph.D. of the University of Iowa said, "We did find that those who pedaled more were more likely to realize improvements in weight, total fat mass, resting heart rate, and body fat percentage."

Switch To a Standing Desk

How can you sit less when you work at a desk? Use a standing desk for some or all of the workday.

You can set up a fixed-height standing desk at the correct height for good ergonomics. You may want to make part of your workstation a standing desk while also having a sit-down desk and alternating between them.

If you or your employer want to invest, there are many adjustable desks that you can raise or lower throughout the day. Sit when you want, stand when you want. While there are benefits to using a standing desk, the research doesn't say whether it is enough to stand still rather than sit still. It may take more activity to reduce the health risks of sitting still.

Practice Active Commuting

Don't overlook the time you spend commuting as a stretch where you sit too long and increase your health risks. If you spend more than 30 minutes sitting during your commute, look for ways to break up that sitting time or ensure you get two to five minutes of walking before and after.

Circle your house or apartment, tidy up, take out the trash and recycling, put laundry in the hamper, make sure you have everything you need for the day. Circle the block on foot before you get in your car. Park farther from your destination, so you get a longer walk to work.

If you are a bus or train commuter and don't get enough of a walk getting to the bus stop or station, think about boarding at the next stop down the line to get more of a walk. Stand up for part of your commute on the rail. You could also get off the bus or rail a stop early and get a little longer walk to your destination.

Alternatively, if you live close enough, you could walk or bike to work when the weather permits. Be sure to practice road safety.

A Word From Verywell

Although sitting for long periods during the day is inevitable for many of us, there are many ways to build activity into your day. Consider the adjustments listed in this article to increase movement at work and during your commute. Commit to making small incremental changes to your daily routine and build on them.

7 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Adult obesity causes and consequences.

  2. Lee DE, Seo SM, Woo HS, Won SY. Analysis of body imbalance in various writing sitting postures using sitting pressure measurementJ Phys Ther Sci. 2018;30(2):343-346. doi:10.1589/jpts.30.343

  3. Smith JAB, Savikj M, Sethi P, et al. Three weeks of interrupting sitting lowers fasting glucose and glycemic variability, but not glucose tolerance, in free-living women and men with obesityAm J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2021;321(2):E203-E216. doi:10.1152/ajpendo.00599.2020

  4. Dunstan DW, Kingwell BA, Larsen R, Healy GN, Cerin E, Hamilton MT, Shaw JE, Bertovic DA, Zimmet PZ, Salmon J, Owen N. "Breaking up prolonged sitting reduces postprandial glucose and insulin responses." Diabetes Care. 2012 Feb 28. doi:10.2337/dc11-1931

  5. Bailey DP, Locke CD. "Breaking up prolonged sitting with light-intensity walking improves postprandial glycemia, but breaking up sitting with standing does not." J Sci Med Sport. 2014 Mar 20. pii: S1440-2440(14)00051-6. doi:10.1016/j.jsams.2014.03.008.

  6. Thosar SS, Bielko SL, Mather KJ, Johnston JD, Wallace JP. "Effect of prolonged sitting and breaks in sitting time on endothelial function." Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 2014 Aug 18. doi:10.1249/MSS.0000000000000479

  7. Koepp GA, Manohar CU, McCrady-Spitzer SK, Ben-Ner A, Hamann DJ, Runge CF, Levine JA. "Treadmill desks: A 1-year prospective trial." Obesity (Silver Spring) 2013 Apr;21(4):705-11. doi:10.1002/oby.20121.

Additional Reading

By Wendy Bumgardner
Wendy Bumgardner is a freelance writer covering walking and other health and fitness topics and has competed in more than 1,000 walking events.