Being sedentary is the new smoking. At least, that’s what the Time magazine cover article had to say about it in 2013. Unfortunately, times haven’t changed. The risks of sitting too much are still there, and people are still sitting as much as they did in 2013.
If you’re like most people, you will spend 6.3 hours a day watching TV or screen-based entertainment. If it’s watched on a mobile or tablet, it will be 11.2 hours daily. If you use a computer regularly for work, this becomes 8.2 using the office computer and 3.2 working at home on your own one or laptop. That’s a lot of sitting!
Isn’t it time to sit less and move more? Because of deskbound jobs, technology devices, and reliance on cars and labor-saving devices, people of all ages have become more sedentary in recent decades, and it’s placing people at increased health risk.
How serious is the problem of too much sitting? Experts estimate that only around 30 percent of Americans ages 65 and older get at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, the quantity of exercise recommended by the Department of Health and Human Services.
It’s not just insufficient exercise that’s harmful to health, it’s spending too much time in a seated position. You might think the exercise session you do in the morning before going to work is enough to make up for the 8 hours of sitting you do afterward, but that’s not the case. Even hitting the gym a few times per week might not fully counter the adverse effects of prolonged sitting.
Studies show that sitting over 6 hours per day and uninterrupted sitting is linked with health problems, including prediabetes, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease. Sitting for protracted periods can have an adverse effect on blood lipids too. Plus, a study on Harvard Health found that lengthy sitting sessions increased the risk of dying from all causes, even in people who did a structured workout.
Sitting Too Much Leads to Weight Gain
It’s not surprising that sitting for long periods leads to weight gain. All forms of physical activity are more effective at burning calories than sitting in a chair. Standing burns 30 more calories per hour than sitting, and the difference adds up. Over an 8-hour day, you burn 240 more calories when you stand than if you sit. That’s why more people are opting for standing desks.
Some people even take workplace activity a step further by investing in a treadmill desk where they walk on a slow-moving treadmill while they work. It’s a way to keep moving during the day. The increased blood flow you get from walking on a treadmill also reduces fatigue and keeps oxygen flowing to your brain, so you’re more alert.
While standing desks and treadmill desks are satisfactory for some, the best way to reduce your daily sedentary time is simply to move around more while you work. Physical activity, even if it’s as simple as walking around the office, climbing flights of stairs, or going for a walk outside, can make a significant difference in your health. If you can’t take a walk, stand up and stretch, and do a few squats and air punches to get the blood flowing. Break the sitting cycle!
Sitting Too Much Increases the Risk of Blood Clots
Even if you work at home, you have even more latitude to move around. Schedule exercise breaks every hour or so by setting an alarm as a reminder. It’s that important! At least stand up and stretch your legs. Sitting for long periods causes blood to pool in your veins and increases the risk of developing blood clots in the legs. Those are dangerous because they can move to the lungs and be fatal.
Sitting Too Much Worsens Fatigue Too
Have you ever noticed how tired you feel after sitting too long? Less sitting and more movement is the solution. One of the best things you can do for your health is move more and sit less. Take walking breaks throughout the workday; even short exercise breaks of 10-15 minutes are beneficial for your health and energy level if you do them consistently. Also, don’t head for the couch or your computer station when you get home from a day of sitting in an office. That’s adding insult to injury!
Sitting Too Long Increases the Risk of Chronic Health Issues
Science shows sitting too much is linked with a greater risk of these health problems:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Type 2 diabetes
- Metabolic syndrome
These are all conditions that can shorten your lifespan, so is less sitting in order?
Sitting Too Much Boosts Mortality
Beyond health problems, studies show you’re more likely to die early if you spend much of your day sitting. That might be the ultimate drawback of sitting too much, and the best motivation for standing, moving, and moving more. You may not get in a full workout during a busy workday, but you can break up sitting with walking and stretching breaks.
The Bottom Line
Exercise offers many rewards for our bodies and minds. People often think the key to leading a healthy life is to exercise regularly. While this is true, it is equally important to pay attention to the amount of time you sit. If you can’t do a structured exercise session or take a walk, break up periods of sitting by taking movement “snacks,” where you stretch and move around. Do it for your health!
- org. “How much should the average adult exercise every day?”
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “How much physical activity do adults need?”
- Eanes, Linda EdD, MSN CE: Too Much Sitting: Newly Recognized Health Risk, AJN, American Journal of Nursing: September 2018 – Volume 118 – Issue 9 – p 26-34. doi: 10.1097/01.NAJ.0000544948.27593.9b.
- “Too much sitting linked to heart disease, diabetes ….” 22 Jan. 2015, health.harvard.edu/blog/much-sitting-linked-heart-disease-diabetes-premature-death-201501227618.