Stop Sitting


Society is based on sitting. We sit in school; we sit to eat; we sit to read; we sit in traffic; we sit to work. It is estimated that more than half of the average American’s waking life is spent sitting. For most federal employees, I believe that number is even higher.

I have 27 years of federal service, and my jobs have ranged from a social insurance specialist to paralegal specialist to financial management specialist to budget analyst. All of which required long periods of sitting.

I am sure that I am not alone when I say that I come to work and sit at my desk for the entire workday. Unfortunately, I learned “the hard way” just how much damage could be done by sitting for too long. Basically, I have “wreaked havoc” on my entire musculoskeletal system by sitting. Even light physical exertion, i.e. walking on the treadmill, has become a chore.

According to an article in this week’s Los Angeles Times, sitting for long hours elevates risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and early death. Not surprisingly, the article suggests giving hazard pay to those who sit for long hours in meetings, on phone calls, and tapping away at keyboards.

Hazard pay may not come to fruition, so for the New Year, I decided to do some research to undo what has been done. It seems that those who engage in regular physical activity but still spend a large proportion of their day in sedentary activity were 30% less likely to die of any cause than those who get little to no exercise.

The article recommends (1) getting up for one to three minutes every half-hour to move around (2) standing or exercising while seated at the monitor (3) aiming for two to three fewer sedentary hours in a 12-hour day (4) exercising regularly to reduce sedentary time. Such activities should lower the risk of illness and improve survival prospects. If you are like me and have no alternative to logging long hours in a chair, you need to “get moving.”

The Los Angeles Times article also suggested standing desks, but I found what I believe is a better alternative, i.e. an office with no chairs or desks. A prototype of the office design is now on display in Amsterdam; it offers places to lean which is a healthier and a more active way to work than anything that has come before. The new office is designed to help combat the health problems that the typical desk job can contribute to or exacerbate. Throughout the day, employees can lean in different positions and keep moving around the room. The concept is the opposite of the office chair which has evolved into a “monster” over time. The office chair forces you to sit eight hours or more in the same way every day. The goal of the new office is to put more pressure on your legs during the day and take different positions.

Honestly, I never thought I would be “in the position” (excuse the pun) that I am with physical illnesses all due to sitting. I really think it would be great if offices universally implement ways to get their employees out of their seats. I would also find it interesting to hear from others who have dealt with the sitting dilemma. Meanwhile, I will “keep it moving.” After all, the new office prototype may not show up in federal offices anytime soon.

Cynthia V White is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Rachel Niebeling

Thanks for sharing Cynthia!

I have definitely seen a change in my body/aches and pains since I started working a desk job. I have found recently that doing stretches every hour or so while I’m at my desk and getting up to walk around the office as often as possible has helped. I believe there are office chair yoga moves that some of my colleagues have found useful too!

Shelly Nuessle

Unfortunately, both the standing desk and the office with no chairs are not permitted at my agency unless you have a documented medical reason for the configuration. One of my coworkers reconfigured is cube using the modular properties of the configuration, and was required to take it apart,

I am a big fan of getting up every hour and taking a little stroll. And we do have a walking group that walks about 20 minutes a couple times a week.


I, too, had thought about starting a walking group. Plus: it helps you find something in common with your coworker other than work.

Nena Roberts

Six months ago I requested an evolution ball chair from my employer, . Since using this “chair”, I no longer have backaches at the end of the day, I sit up straighter and don’t slouch, which is better for my back. It has made a huge difference in my physical as well as my mental being. In addition I make an effort to get up and walk around the office. Instead of calling my co-worker to ask a question, I walk to her desk. On sunny days I take a brief walk outside. I intentionally look for ways to get up and get moving and I also encourage my co workers to do the same. Thank you for writing this valuable article that is applicable for everyone!

Tammy M.

Take advantage of what your agency offers.
We can sign up for fitness time 3 times a week at half hour increments, on-site Weight Watchers meetings offer wonderful guidance on making healthier food choices, and with a doctor’s note, we may obtain a stand-up monitor. The stand-up monitor slides up and down, so users may opt how long they stand or sit making it easier to adjust to standing for long periods of time.
These options have brought a wealth of health into my life.

Amber V Hammond

I find it difficult to remember to get up, so I use the Pomodoro method (there’s a great app for it) to help me remember to take breaks at regular intervals. As an unintended consequence, I’m also more productive because I have multiple “deadlines” throughout the day, where I’m aiming to finish a task before my next quick stretch break.


Thank you for the great post. About a year, I was hired at a more sedintary job where I spend most of my sitting. It’s difficult for me to remember to get up every half hour to stretch my legs and I find myself sitting for up to three hours without interruption just typing away. In the age of smart phones and technology that allows us to set reminder and upload apps specifically designed towards improving our health, I think I will take advantage of the technology I have invested in and use it to improve my health. I love the futuristic office!

Linda L.

I found a few yoga exercises you can do at your desk:
Cat & Cow (Spinal Stretch):
Place your hands on your knees and sit tall. Find a slight arch and exhale as you lower towards your thighs. Inhale, rolling the spine up to come back to a tall seat. Repeat breath cycle 5-10 times.

Seated Twist:
Move forward to sit near the edge of your chair. Spread you knees slightly wider than your hips. Breathe in, growing tall, and place your left hand on your right knee. As you exhale, twist to the right, placing your right hand on the seat behind you. Keep your torso long as you look past your right shoulder. Hold for 3-5 breaths, and then return to center. Repeat on the other side.

Three Part Breath:
Close your eyes or find a soft gaze. As you inhale, fill your body with breath beginning at your lower belly, then expanding through your ribs, and finally in your chest. Pause at the top of your inhale. Exhale slowly, emptying the breath in reverse. Pause at the bottom of your exhale. Repeat for 10 breaths.

Luis Alonso

I couldn’t agree more; we need to re-think how we work and create new ways to get moving.
I recommend volunteering to do office activities that get you out of your chair:

Grabbing paper to re-load the copiers/printers
Collecting everyone recycles baskets to take to the main recycle bin
Taking your own UPS/FedEx packages to the mail room
There are many ways to get up and walk, you just have to want to do it.

I wish Federal Agencies support more the walk during your lunch and breaks movement.

Thank you for open up the conversation.