How little you should be sitting every day, according to a physiotherapist

Woman sitting. (Getty Images)
How long do you spend each day sitting? (Getty Images)

Many of us spend as long as nine hours a day sitting – whether we're watching TV, working on a computer or travelling. And whilst being sedentary isn't entirely avoidable in some people's daily routines, there are certainly ways to minimise it.

And this is in our best interest to do so, as sitting down too much can actually be a risk to our health.

So, how long should we really be sitting for? And what can we do to get ourselves moving more throughout the day? Physiotherapist Clara Kervyn tells us all we need to know.

How can sitting for too long affect our health?

"Sitting down for such long periods of time without much movement may cause the breakdown of tissue, stiffening of muscles and result in severe joint and back pain. Even if you exercise after a day spent at your laptop it won’t necessarily prevent the damage that can happen from sitting all day," Kervyn, also an advisor to Deep Heat, Deep Freeze and Deep Relief highlights.

"Our latest real world research shows how much we rely on movement for our physical and mental health. Sitting for long periods of time impacts not only on joint health but also increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes and some cancers. If you have an arthritic condition, sitting for long periods of time can make it worse. Too much sitting can also be bad for your mental health and sleep quality."

The NHS explains that too much time spent sitting is thought to slow the metabolism, which affects the body's ability to regulate blood sugar, blood pressure and break down body fat. While research does suggest an association between sitting and ill health, it hasn't yet been proven to be a direct cause.

How long should people sit a day?

Woman sitting. (Getty Images)
Limiting screen time where possible can also help to improve sedentary lifestyles. (Getty Images)

"Sitting for four hours a day or less minimises risks to health from sitting. Sitting for eight hours or more puts you at high risk of adverse health effects," says Kervyn.

"That said, as just four hours a day or less might be impractical if you have a sedentary job, it's important to build in standing into your working day, walking around to chat to colleagues or to the printer and moving at your desk."

It's important to keep in mind that while this is a useful benchmark, the NHS highlights that there is currently not enough evidence to definitively set a time limit on how long people should sit each day. However, it points to other countries like Australia that have made recommendations that children, for example, limit screen time to one-two hours a day to prevent too much time sprawled on the sofa.

Movements to break up long periods of sitting

Young businessman with face mask working at ergonomic standing desk in office. Male employee working on desktop computer at his workplace.
See what ergonomic options your workplace can help with. (Getty Images)

As mentioned, Kervyn urges, "Break up your day with standing-based work (e.g. make phone conversations standing up) or switch to a sit-and-stand desk. Aim for two hours a day of standing or light activity whilst at work. Get up on your feet at least once an hour to walk around and stretch."

If you WGH and don't have a special desk you can raise to standing, you can still take the short breaks throughout the day to get yourself moving around your home (on top of any quick lunchtime walks) – every little helps.

"Our research also found that only four in 10 people get up to stretch. If you forget, set an alarm to go off every hour or so to remind you to stand up. Aim also for 30 minutes of exercise daily – walking, jogging, cycling, swimming," says the physio, adding, "Promptly dealing with any muscle and joint pain is doable and can also help to prevent a sedentary lifestyle in the first place."

Older people who are able to can also keep themselves moving by using the stairs as much as possible, taking up active hobbies like gardening and DIY, or playing with any grandchildren. We don't have to be running marathons everyday – we just need to get moving in some way in between time spent sitting.

Watch: Diana Moran leads a gentle standing workout, ideal for those wanting an easy introduction to exercise