Woman with neck and shoulder stiffness as a result of sitting at a desk all-day

Think you’re fairly healthy and lead a moderately healthy lifestyle? Weekend warriors beware! Even if you hit the gym or soccer field a couple of times a week, your health is at risk if you are sitting six to eight hours a day the rest of the time. It’s time to wage war against a sedentary lifestyle and physical inactivity.

The Risks of a Sedentary Lifestyle

The ills of sedentary behaviours can sneak up on you. From a desk job that has you desk-bound for hours on end, to watching TV serials on your couch at the end of the day, it isn’t hard to become comfortably lazy and sit all day. Add to that a lack of time or motivation for physical activity, and researchers think you’ve got a problem bigger than your growing middle. “But I’m just resting!” you cry. “How bad can that be?”

Effects of Prolonged Sitting

What happens

What it means

  • Decreased cellular metabolism
  • Increased waist circumference
  • More triglycerides (fat) in your blood
You could easily become obese.
  • 13% increased risk of cardiovascular disease
You have an 18% higher risk of dying from a heart attack or stroke.
  • Increased insulin resistance
There’s a 91% greater chance you’ll end up with Type II diabetes.
  • Increased likelihood of developing breast, colon or colorectal cancers
Your risk of dying from these cancers increases by 17%.
  • Increased neck and shoulder stiffness
  • Reduced blood circulation
You’ll not just be uncomfortable, you might even get injured when you finally move.
You could also develop life-threatening deep vein thrombosis.
  • Increased psychological distress at work
You’ll tend to get depressed. You’ll also be less productive.
  • 49% increased all-cause mortality
You’ll die sooner than later!

That spreading bottom is but just one result of excessive sitting. Even if you exercise generally but sit for long periods of time, you still face only slightly lower health risks. Kids, too, are not immune! Here’s great news: it doesn’t take much at all to counter the problem.

Kickstart Your Active Lifestyle

Just standing up helps you burn twice as many calories as sitting and moving around for as few as three minutes already boosts your cardio-metabolic health.

Take a five-minute walk every hour and you’ll actually expend about 120 calories in eight hours!

Take a short walk when you get your coffee to sneak in more physical activity.

Here’s a tantalising thought: Those who take frequent walk-breaks throughout the day average a waist size 6cm smaller than those who sit through long stretches! 1

In fact, with frequent walking breaks, you lower the risks associated with being overweight, and your body copes better with glucose control—important for those with diabetes. Regular exercise can also reduce your systolic high blood pressure by 4 to 9 millimetres of mercury (mm Hg)2, and you will be half as likely to suffer from depression as compared to a non-walker.3

Stay on The Move Throughout Your Day

Clocking 10,000 steps a day is actually less daunting than it sounds.

Clocking 10,000 steps a day is actually less daunting than it sounds

The emphasis is on staying on the move, so you don’t actually have to go out of your way to exercise. Need to talk to your colleagues? Visit them instead of picking up the phone (and use the stairs instead of the lift!). Got a snack attack? Keep your drinks and munchies at the pantry instead of at your table (you’ll also score points with the boss for keeping your workstation clean). Brain drain? Try pacing to get the ideas flowing.

Of course, nobody’s saying you have to exercise during your lunch break, but why not head out and walk to the food court? And if you have an extra fifteen minutes, that’s all the reason you need to shop, shop, shop.

The trick to regular physical activity is to sneak in as much as you can throughout the day.

In the morning, you could walk the kids to school, and at the end of the day, try walking back from the train station, or getting off the bus a couple of stops early. In the cool of the evening, an extra turn around the neighbourhood park on the way home will take off some of the day’s stress, and you’ll get home in a better mood, too.

When the weekend comes and you have more leisure time, don’t be a couch potato—bring the whole family and explore a neighbourhood in Singapore! That way, you’ll be broadening your mind instead of your hips.

Excuses Keep Us Sedentary

That first step is always the hardest, but once you overcome the inertia you’ll be glad you took it. Ever caught yourself thinking any of these?

Take walks during your lunch break with a colleague for more physical activity

“I’m too tired” — Walking enough actually primes you for better sleep at night, so you’ll be more refreshed day by day. As your metabolism improves, you’ll find you’re feeling more energetic, all the time.

“I’m not fit enough” — Walking is a safe, low-impact exercise suitable for all ages. That means even if you are overweight or have terrible stamina, you’re still good to go!

“There’s too much to do” — Start walking before the stress gets to you. Walking offers an opportunity to relax and reflect. With better mental health, you’ll be more organised and more creative. You don’t even have to carve out time to walk—just make it part of your daily routine, as described above.

“I don’t know how to start” — Walking is simple and free. Whether alone or with friends, you can walk practically anywhere. Besides the tips above, try mall walking; or take up brisk walking as a hobby.

Step Up To Your New, Active Lifestyle

Don’t worry about the right time or the right place to start walking. As long as you are moving, you’ve already taken a step in the right direction. Soon, you’ll wonder why it took you so long to start!

Check out the table below. Do a bit of this, a bit of that to regularly clock your steps!


Estimated steps

Taking the stairs when travelling between MRT stations100
Walking up the stairs (two storeys) to work or for a meeting80-100
Visiting colleagues at their desks250
5 minutes walking to your toilet break or coffee break, every hour2,000
Walking 15 minutes to your favourite lunch spot1,500
8 minutes’ walk from the MRT station back home750
Walking 10 minutes1,000
Jogging 20 minutes4,000
Tennis 30 minutes5,200
Zumba 1 hour9,600
Badminton 1 hour10,350
Soccer 1 hour10,350