Why Sitting is Ruining Your Health


According to a recent study in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, people nowadays spend more time sedentary—as much as 9 hours per day—than they do sleeping. Whether working a desk job or lounging on the sofa, being inactive for many hours per day has been linked to an increased risk of diabetes, several cancers, and heart disease, as well as higher rates of obesity and a shorter life expectancy.

Even worse: regular exercise doesn’t undo the damage. A recent article in Runner’s World magazine with the alarming headline “Sitting is the New Smoking—Even for Runners” discusses research showing that people who exercise regularly are as much at risk for developing the so-called sitting disease as non-exercisers. One of the experts quoted is Travis Saunders, a Ph.D. student and certified exercise physiologist at the Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Group at Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, who said: “A consistent body of emerging research suggests it is entirely possible to meet current physical activity guidelines while still being incredibly sedentary, and that sitting increases your risk of death and disease, even if you are getting plenty of physical activity.”

That’s not to say that activity has no effect on your health. But it’s the specific type of activity that matters. Regular breaks—even as short as one minute—reduce the risks of staying sedentary, and experts also recommend shifting in one’s seat and adjusting one’s posture are important as well. You can easily break up long periods of sitting by heading to a coworker’s office and chatting face-to-face rather than e-mailing. Each time you complete a task, stand, stretch, and take a short walk. Drink water throughout the day; every time you finish your glass, refill it at the water cooler. (You’ll also get up more to use the bathroom.)

With type 2 diabetes on the rise among children, it’s important to get your kids moving, too! Involve them in dinner prep and cleanup, limit the time they spend using the computer, and during commercial breaks from TV shows, have everyone get up and complete a quick chore. And if there’s an activity both you and your kids enjoy—taking a scenic walk, playing catch in the back yard, or riding bikes together—make these activities a regular part of your schedule.