The Consequences of Sitting

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Posted on March 22, 2016

It's been estimated that Americans now spend an average of 9.3 hours per day sitting. Whether it's a long commute driving to work, sending emails, working on the computer, sitting through staff meetings, eating meals, watching TV or playing on your smartphone or tablet, we are sitting more than ever before. This may not sound like a big deal, but did you know that sitting has been linked with premature death and a number of other health problems? And while medical researchers have long warned about the dangers of prolonged sitting, it has become even more important as your society becomes more sedentary.  Let's look further into the consequences of sitting.

  1. High Blood Pressure/Cholesterol – blood flows more sluggishly during prolonged sitting and allows fatty acids to more easily clog the heart.
  2. High Blood Glucose Levels/Type II Diabetes – because your muscles are less active during sitting, they don't respond as readily to insulin, so the pancreas thinks it needs to produce more and more, which can lead to diabetes. One study found a decline in insulin response after just one day of prolonged sitting.
  3. Metabolic Syndrome – being more sedentary has repeatedly been linked to having a higher risk for developing metabolic syndrome, even when other factors such as age, sex, ethnicity, smoking history, etc. have been adjusted for.
  4. Cardiovascular Disease – people who sit 4 hours or more per day  have a nearly 125% greater risk for events associated with cardiovascular disease (including angina and heart attacks) compared to those who sit for 2 hours or less per day.
  5. Obesity – this one is simple. Moving burns calories. If you move less, you are burning less calories and putting yourself at risk for being overweight. And I know I don't need to touch on all the health problems associated with obesity.
  6. Depression – when muscles contract it helps pump fresh blood and oxygen through the brain and trigger the release of brain and mood enhancing chemicals. When we don't move, all of this slows down, including brain function.
  7. Musculoskeletal Problems – the list here is really endless: weak abs, painful spines, "tech neck", tight hips, dormant butt syndrome are just a few. All of which can lead to painful joints and muscles.
  8. Cancer – Several studies have found a link between sitting and higher rates of colon, breast and endometrial cancers. The cause is not exactly known.
  9. Death – a study compared people who spent 2 hours or less per day sitting versus those who spent 4 hours or more per day sitting. The "sitters" had a nearly 50% increased risk of death from any cause!!!

Sounds scary right? So what can we do about it? It's simple enough – move more. But it's not enough to exercise outside of these prolonged sitting hours. We need to be moving more AND sitting less. A recent suggestion from researchers states that we should try to avoid sitting for 2 hours every work day and build up to spending 4 hours doing non-sitting activities. Examples? Take your phone calls standing up, walk over to a colleague's desk instead of sending an email, invest in a standing workstation and split your time between sitting and standing, hold walking meetings, walk during your lunch break, etc. However you do it, just get up! Your body will thank you.