Study after study has proven that there are serious health risks that come with sitting for prolonged periods. One of the latest studies found that too much sitting and too little physical activity can speed up biological aging by as much as eight years, giving those of us with sedentary day jobs just one more big reason to do everything we can do avoid sitting too much.
Telling yourself to take regular breaks during the workday is easier said than done. With a full schedule, unexpected obstacles or interruptions, and all sorts of tasks that need to be completed, it just makes sense to make work more of a priority than getting up to move around.
The trick is finding balance. You have to experiment with workflows, break times and forms of movement to find what works best for you while being flexible with your work and your daily movement when things don’t end up going exactly according to plan.
Here are a few simple formulas you can use to help you avoid the risks of being too sedentary, without sacrificing too much time or energy needed to get work done.
The Pomodoro Technique
The Pomodoro Technique is based off of the idea of working in short bursts with quick but more frequent breaks to help maximize and sustain focus. It involves working in 25-minute chunks separated by short and sweet 5-minute breaks. After completing four 25-minute work periods plus breaks (a total of two hours), you get to take a longer 40-minute break.
Formula: (25 minutes of work + 5-minute break) X 4 + 40-minute break. Aim to complete four full cycles (or 12 rounds of 25-minute work periods) for a full workday.
The DeskTime Method
This formula is ideal for people who prefer to work for longer than 20 or 30 minutes at a time. A 2014 study conducted by productivity tool DeskTime revealed that the perfect work period is about 52 minutes and the perfect break lasts about 17 minutes.
Formula: 52 minutes of work + 17-minute break.
The 20-8-2 Method
For those who are fine with working in short bursts but can’t move very much, the 20-8-2 method may be best. A 2015 Australian study found that standing more than moving still does its part to help minimize the risks of sitting too long. The researchers suggested working 20 minutes for every 30-minute period while standing for eight minutes and moving for two minutes.
Formula: 20 minutes of work + 8 minutes of standing (at desk or away) + 2 minutes of movement.
Pick Your Preferred Ways to Move
Whichever formula you decide to try, make sure you know what you’re going to do to implement physical movement into your breaks. Build a list if you have to. You could walk to the furthest washroom, visit your coworkers on another floor (and take the stairs), or even go for a coffee run.
Make Adjustments to Your Formula
The above formulas are just suggestions, and you should customize them to fit your work style best. For example, you could adjust the Pomodoro Technique for 30-minute work period chunks with 7-minute breaks. Or you could make the DeskTime Method an even 50 minutes with a 15-minute break. It’s all up to you.
Have a Backup Plan
When you’re swamped with work and can’t afford to lose any time away from your desk, it’s beneficial to have a few extremely brief and easy options for movement. For example, simply standing up for even as little as a few seconds is better than continuing to sit. Fidgeting — such as toe-tapping — has also been scientifically proven to be beneficial.
Don’t expect to be able to easily strike the perfect balance between work and physical movement every day. Use these formulas, but tailor them to fit your style and be ready to make even more adjustments when things get hectic.