Sedentary behavior and variation

Tips on how to prevent muscle and skeletal aches and pains by varying your workday.

Norsk versjon - Stillesitting og variasjon

Topic page about HSE | Pages labelled with ergonomics

The average adult is inactive for approx. 60% of the time between waking up in the morning and going to sleep at night. Both work and spare time often contains long periods of sedentary behavior. The Directorate of Health defines sedentary behavior as: "Being awake while in a seated, lying or otherwise physically resting position". Examples of sedentary behavior can be using a tablet or PC, watching TV, playing computer games, other screen-related activities, driving, etc.

The problem in today's society is that we can take care of most of our tasks using mobile phones or other devices. We don't "have to" use our bodies as much as we used to. Previously, humans were active until they sat down to rest/eat, and then they went back to their activities again. Today, it is often the other way around. When entering a room, we will normally look for a seat. When finding one, we will often not leave it before we "have to" move. 

Long-term sedentary behavior is harmful to our health. Taking a seat for a little while is not harmful; the problem starts when we remain seated over a long period of time instead of moving around. 

The human body is made to move! Our muscles have to be used to stay healthy, by performing tasks like playing with our children, tending the garden, walking stairs, shovelling snow, cleaning the house, washing clothes, vacuuming, walking/biking to work, etc. These everyday activities are very important and cannot be replaced by a workout! Sedentary behavior and physical activity are two independent behaviours, and should therefore be approached differently.

Sedentary behavior and health

Sedentary behavior is an independent risk factor for reduced health, like cardiovascular diseases and diabetes. Activating the muscles by moving around increases the energy consumption and causes positive effects on the blood sugar regulation and blood fat profile. 

The brain also responds well to movement. Did you know that it works better when you move? This particularly applies to simple and monotonous movements, like walking.  

Tips for reducing long-term sedentary behavior

  • Plan your workday to make sure that you can alternate between different tasks.
  • Adjust the height of your desk often, if it is adjustable. Alternate between sitting down, "sitting-to-stand" and standing up during the day. 
  • If your desk does not have height adjustment, you should get up from your chair at least 5 minutes every hour. Do some stretches or other exercises, or take a short walk. 
  • Go get some water, coffee, tea – these tasks turn into many short walks. 
  • Are you going to a meeting? "Walk and talk" are meetings where the participants discuss issues while walking, instead of sitting around a table. 
  • Always choose the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Walk or ride your bike instead of driving.
  • Get up when the phone rings and stand up or walk around while talking. 
  • Take short breaks during meetings to stand up.
  • Are you trying to solve a difficult problem? Go out for a walk instead of sitting inside while mulling it over.
  • Listen to your body. Pay attention to what it tells you.
  • Be active on your spare time – physical activity is both preventative and healthy.


Tina Hagen, occupational health physiotherapist