Published on September 20, 2022

Standing up to Sitting Down

Occupational Therapist Urges You to Play

A person and their partner standing in a park

“Once you retire, you’re pushed to sit down and do nothing,” said Brittany Doney, an Occupational Therapist who has served patients at Enloe Medical Center for more than five years. “And that’s killing us: the idea that you’re retired so you can just sit down.”

“Once you retire, you’re pushed to sit down and do nothing. And that’s killing us: the idea that you’re retired so you can just sit down.”

According to experts, habitually sitting for longer than an hour with no break consistently results in a host of consequences, and not just for the older adults. Over time, a lifestyle of prolonged sitting increases the risk for osteoporosis, cancer, joint injury, compressed discs, back pain, fractures, nerve pain and other issues. “It really affects the whole body,” Doney said.

Since the brain controls the body’s movement, prolonged sitting also takes away opportunities for the brain to stay active, increasing the risk for Alzheimer’s disease, other forms of dementia and depression, Doney added. Yet prolonged sitting is very common. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the median reported sitting time for U.S. adults, in general, is about 6.5-8 hours per day, and one study found that adults spend over half their day in sedentary behaviors.

Incorporating Movement

So how much sitting is too much? Doney recommends getting up and moving for at least 2 minutes every hour. While this might sound difficult, especially for those who work in offices, it might be easier than you think. “Walking is the magic elixir,” Doney said, explaining that frequent, gentle movement is even more beneficial than working out intensely for an hour at the end of the day.

To get more movement into your day, she recommends using a standing desk, choosing a chair that’s not overly comfortable and even drinking more water. The more water you drink, she pointed out, the more you will get up to use the restroom. And you get a bonus benefit: You stay hydrated, she added.

Of course, not everyone has a choice about how much they sit. Fortunately, there are still options for many people who have difficulty walking or standing. Doney recommends that people living with a condition affecting their mobility do as much as possible by themselves, according to their individual ability. “Those movements where your body’s just doing something lightly is the best type of movement for you to do,” she said.

“People don’t allow themselves to do things when they hit adulthood. They’re like ‘That’s for kids. I’m not a kid.’ I hear it all the time. And it’s OK. It’s OK to have fun!”

Above all, Doney hopes to communicate a message of hope, especially to the older adults she assists daily, encouraging people to pursue hobbies that make them feel alive. A more active lifestyle follows naturally.

When asked for ideas, she suggested bird watching, painting, cooking, volunteering, photography, walking farmers markets, golfing, dancing, swimming, fishing, stretching and yoga, emphasizing that it’s OK to start slowly.

“People don’t allow themselves to do things when they hit adulthood. They’re like ‘That’s for kids. I’m not a kid.’ I hear it all the time,” she said. “And it’s OK. It’s OK to have fun!”