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Stand up for yourself

Although, they might not get your heart pumping, Australian research suggests that small movements like loading a dishwasher or getting up to answer the phone are still important because they all count towards lowering your risk of chronic disease.

We all know that a 30 minute walk on most days of the week helps prevent heart disease and diabetes. But there’s also evidence that clocking up as many small movements as possible throughout the day may be as important to your health as having a regular date with exercise.

Why do small movements matter?

Small movements break up the long periods of sitting that are now a common part of modern living. Besides sitting down to eat meals and watch TV, many of us are sitting down for seven hours or more a day at work. We’re also sitting to get to and from work, either behind the wheel of our cars or on public transport. Add on the time spent sitting in the car to get to a shopping centre or drop off your kids, and it’s not hard to see that we may be spending most of our waking hours sitting.

The trouble with sedentary living isn’t just that we burn fewer kilojoules. It seems there may also be something about this prolonged inactivity itself that’s doing us harm. For instance, the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute has found that the workers who stood up more often to answer the phone or get a cup of coffee had healthier levels of blood sugar and blood fats than the more prolonged sitters. 

One theory of why this might occur is that even small movements make you contract your muscles and muscles use up blood sugar for fuel. But just sitting there means you’re barely moving a muscle — and not using up blood sugar.

Sweating the small stuff may also help keep your weight down. When Mayo Clinic researchers in the US compared the movements of lean people with those of overweight people, they found an interesting difference. Leaner people spent around two hours a day on small movements like getting up and down, pacing, and generally fidgeting. The research found that these small movements alone could help burn up an extra 1,400 kilojoules a day.

How can I sit less and move more?

As well as regular exercise, you can add more movement to your day by:

  • Trying to avoid long periods of sitting at home and at work. If this is difficult, find ways to break up sitting time — get a drink of water or just walk around or stretch.
  • Standing up to talk on the phone — and if it’s a cordless or mobile phone, walk around while you talk
  • Trying to find a way of cutting down on sitting time on your way to work — you could park further away from work or get off the bus or train at an earlier stop and walk the rest of the way
  • Doing things the inconvenient way — for example, use the toilet on a different level at work so that you need to use the stairs
  • Bypassing the lift and use stairs when you can
  • Walking, not just standing on escalators
  • Getting a move on in your lunch break. Run errands or go for a walk — 30 minutes is great, but 10 or 15 minutes is still better than nothing
  • Rethinking your attitude to mopping the floor, mowing the lawn, cleaning the car or pushing a supermarket trolley around a shopping centre. They might seem like chores, but they’re also good opportunities to move, use some muscle and burn a few kilojoules
  • Playing active games with your children or the dog
  • Getting into the garden for a few minutes. Mowing, digging and raking are especially good, but even smaller jobs like weeding and watering count as well
  • Finding ways to get moving in front of the TV — do the ironing or some stretching exercises or use some exercise equipment such as a fitness ball, an exercise bike or some light dumbbells while you watch.

These might be small movements but if you do a few of them every day they add up to help you be more active in your everyday life.

Further Information

Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing: An active way to better health


Healy G Wijndaele K Dunstan DW et al. Objectively measured sedentary time, physical activity, and metabolic risk: The Australian diabetes, obesity and lifestyle study (AusDiab). Diabetes Care. 2008; 31(2): 369–371.

Levine JA Lanningham-Foster LM McCrady SK et al. Interindividual Variation in Posture Allocation: Possible Role in Human Obesity. Science. 2005; 307(5709): 584–586.

Mayo Clinic. Barriers to fitness: Overcoming common problems. [online] Mayo Foundation for Medical Research and Education. c1998-2010 [last updated 21 Feb 2009, accessed 16 Aug 2010] Available from:

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This information has been developed and reviewed for Bupa by health professionals. To the best of their knowledge it is current and based on reputable sources of medical research. It should be used as a guide only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional medical or other health professional advice.

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Last published 31 October 2010