Sitting Too Long Could Be Dangerous to Your Health

Americans sit a lot. In fact, it is not uncommon for people to spend half of their waking hours sitting. Whether you sit at the office, in the car, at school, at the computer or in front of the TV, if you're seated for too many hours, you are increasing your health risks, experts say.

Several studies suggest people who spend most of their days sitting are more likely to have cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity--all of which increase an individual's risk for death.

One such study, led by Peter Katzmarzyk, M.D. of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, was published last year in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. In this study, Katzmarzyk and colleagues tracked more than 17,000 Canadians, ages 18-90, over a 12 year period, examining the links between time spent sitting (at school, work, and at home) and mortality.

The researchers found that participants who sat for more hours had a higher death risk. What's interesting is that even for the participants who exercised regularly, spending long stretches of time sitting was still harmful to their health. In other words, no matter how much you exercise, if you also spend a lot of time sitting, you are likely to have a higher health risk than someone who performs the same amount of exercise but spends less time sitting.

Why is this?

According to Elin Ekblom-Bak of the Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences, the body starts sending harmful signals after about four hours of sitting. She says that after four hours the genes that regulate the amount of glucose and fat in the body start to shut down. From here, the trouble begins.

Tim Armstrong, a physical activity expert at the World Health Organization (WHO), says people who exercise every day--but still spend a lot of time sitting--might get more benefit if that exercise were spread across the day, rather than in a single bout.

Whether you currently exercise regularly, or don't exercise at all, here are some tips you can use to break up your sitting time.

How to Prevent Problems

The basic rule to follow is that the more you can get up and interrupt sedentary behavior, the better. Try these tips.

  • Take breaks. Take a break every 20 minutes or so to get up and stretch or move your body in some way. For example, when you want to talk to one of your colleagues in the office, don't just send them an email, get up, walk over and talk to them.
  • Take a lunchtime walk. There is growing evidence that walking is excellent in the prevention of heart attack, the treatment of hypertension, obesity and musculoskeletal disorders. The great thing about walking is that it is one of the most natural activities --and no special skills or equipment are required.
  • Use the stairs. Instead of taking the elevator at your office, take the stairs. This will give you an opportunity to increase your heart rate and get some aerobic exercise.
  • Do a few laps. Before you get in your car to sit again for your commute home, take a few walking laps around the parking lot or the neighborhood.


Associated Press. "Get Off That Deadly Chair: Sitting Too Long Raises Fatality Risk, Experts Say." USA Today. 20 Jan. 2010. Web. 13 Apr. 2010.

Hamilton, M.T., Hamilton, D.G. Zderic, T.W. "Role of Low Energy Expenditure and Sitting in Obesity, Metabolic Syndrome, Type 2 Diabetes, and Cardiovascular Disease." Diabetes. 56.11 (2007). 2655-67. Web. 13 Apr. 2010.

Katzmarzyk Peter T. Church T.S., Craig C.L., Bouchard C. "Sitting Time and Mortality from all Causes, Cardiovascular Disease, and Cancer." Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 41.5 (2009). 998-1005. Web. 13 Apr. 2010.

Morris, J.N., and Hardman, A.E. "Walking to Health." Sports Medicine. 23.5 (1997). 306-332. Web. 13 Apr. 2010.