Too Much Sitting Kills - Even If You Exercise

Sitting Watching TV
Sitting Watching TV. Newton Daly / Digital Visions

If you sit most of the day you increase your risk for major health conditions, even if you exercise each day. A review of over 40 research studies on sitting and health risks reached that consensus conclusion. The review was published by Toronto Rehabilitation Institute researchers in the Jan. 19, 2015 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine.

Specific Risks from Long Sitting Times

  • Diabetes: As much as 90% increased risk.

Sitting Kills Even If You Exercise
While health authorities worldwide have focused on telling us we need 30 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous intensity exercise most days of the week, that doesn't reduce the effects of sitting. These studies all controlled for the amount of dedicated exercise time the subjects reported. Health risks were increased even if the subjects exercised but sat for long periods each day.

What Kinds of Studies Found These Sitting Risks?
The studies relied on self-reported times for sitting rather than people who were tracked with activity monitors.

Most of the studies followed a large group of people for a number of years, tracking many different factors such as exercise time, TV-watching time, occupational activity, recreational activity, and health risk factors such as weight and smoking.

The different methods used to track sitting time are a weakness of this review of studies.

An editorial on the study calls for further research using activity monitors that will objectively measure sitting vs. standing, light activity, and moderate-to-vigorous exercise.

Questions Remaining About Sitting Time

  • How much total sitting time per day is too much?
  • Does breaking up bouts of sitting with short activity breaks reduce the health risks, or do you need to reduce total sitting time?
  • How often should you break up a long bout of sitting? Is getting up once per hour enough, as many inactivity-alert monitors signal, such as the Polar Loop? Or should you get up every half hour?
  • When you break up a bout of sitting, how much movement do you need to do in order for it to have a good effect? Some inactivity-alert monitors are satisfied with just getting up, while others require one or more continuous minutes of movement, such as 5 minutes with the Nike FuelBand.
  • Is standing really better than sitting, or would we waste money by installing standing desks? Do you really need a treadmill desk instead?
  • Is seated exercise such as using a desk cycle better than sitting or standing still?
  • Does engaging more muscles by sitting on an unstable surface such as an exercise ball, fit disc or wobble stool effective in reducing the risks of sitting still?

Sitting Is the New Smoking
With the research concluding that sitting is its own health risk, governments are considering incorporating recommendations to reduce sitting time in their health guidelines. A group is working in Canada to recommend all-day activity levels and not just focus on bouts of exercise, according to The Canadian Press.

More: 8 Hacks to Sit Less and Save Your Life


Aviroop Biswas, BSc; Paul I. Oh, MD, MSc; Guy E. Faulkner, PhD; Ravi R. Bajaj, MD; Michael A. Silver, BSc; Marc S. Mitchell, MSc; and David A. Alter, MD, PhD "Sedentary Time and Its Association With Risk for Disease Incidence, Mortality, and Hospitalization in Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis", Annals of Internal Medicine, V 2015;162(2):123-132. doi:10.7326/M14-1651.

Brigid M. Lynch, PhD; and Neville Owen, PhD "Editorial: Too Much Sitting and Chronic Disease Risk: Steps to Move the Science Forward." Annals of Internal Medicine. 2015;162(2):146-147. doi:10.7326/M14-2552.

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