The Ohio State University Alumni Association

The university's chief wellness officer explains how adding time on your feet can add years to your life.

wellness walk

Faculty and staff participate in "Walk with a Health Coach" event at Chadwick Arboretum.

Please rise to read this column.

Just the simple act of standing more often can add years to your life and increase your brain’s activity. So please, push back out of that chair or get off the comfy couch.

You’ve probably heard the phrase “sitting is the new smoking” and may have wondered what it means. Let me break it down for you: regular, prolonged sitting increases your risk of dying from diabetes, heart disease, cancer and stroke. More sedentary time also leads to weak core muscles and back pain, stability issues and poor circulation.

Even regular exercisers are not immune from “sitting disease.” A daily 30 to 60 minutes on the treadmill can’t erase the effects of eight hours in your desk chair or a full night lounging in front of the television.

I know what you’re going to tell me: Bern, I’m tired. I don’t have the energy to do all this standing. And my desk chair (or couch or reclining lounger) is so comfortable when I’m exhausted.

Here’s the good news:

Standing or walking gives you more energy. Sitting actually zaps that energy and leaves you reaching for that super-sized jug of sugary caffeine.

Unfortunately, as a society, we are habitual sitters. And habits can be really tough to break. So give yourself time to establish new habits of standing or walking more often, and don’t be afraid to seek help. Technology has made it easier with apps and wearable devices. You can schedule reminder texts or alarms to keep you on track to get off your seat.

I like to schedule meetings for 50 minutes rather than an hour and use the remaining 10 for a wellness walk. Or better yet, hold a walking meeting: The exercise gets the brain pumping along with your heart rate. At the College of Nursing, we have treadmill work stations available for anyone who wants to move while they check email, read or take care of business. We even have some that face each other so we can hold small meetings on treadmills.

Standing meetings also are a good choice. You’d be surprised how fast you get through an agenda when all the participants are standing. And it’s also harder to be distracted by smart phones and other technology when you’re on your feet and not slumped behind a table.

During phone calls, get up and pace your office. Use the speakerphone if you need to, but get out of that chair.

Ask your company to invest in standing workstations. If you get pushback, share this column with your boss. More and more companies are seeing the value of wellness but may not be aware of the importance of standing.

If you drive for a living or simply spend a lot of time driving during work, make the most of your stops. Aim for at least 10 minutes of movement per break. If you can’t spare that much time, remember, something is better than nothing.

None of us is perfect, but we can all make a few simple adjustments to reduce the time we spend sitting. Change doesn’t have to be scary or difficult. Give yourself time to learn these new habits, and soon you’ll be on your feet and on your way to a longer, healthier life.

Bernadette Mazurek Melnyk is the university’s chief wellness officer, associate vice president for health promotion and College of Nursing dean.