Is too much sitting killing you?


How many hours do you sit each day?

Being seated for long periods is emerging as one of the most dangerous practices of our modern world. With the advent of desk jobs, cars, computers and sedentary leisure activities such as watching TV and pinning on Pinterest, we spend practically all our waking time seated. And it’s making us fatter and sicker and robbing us of years of life.

The scariest part is that sitting has now been shown to be an independent risk factor. That means that it doesn’t matter if you: are routinely active; go to the gym after work; don’t smoke; and, eat salad for lunch. If you sit for long periods every day, you are still at risk of reducing your life expectancy.

Here is how you can interrupt all those hours of inactivity before you start to do some damage to your health.

The evils of too much television

The number of hours you spend glued to the TV is a useful, general marker of how much you engage in sedentary behaviour.
According to data from the Australian Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle Study (pdf), Australian adults watched a staggering 9.8 billion hours of TV in 2008. Controlling the data for health variables such as smoking, the researchers could isolate the specific effects that hours of sitting may have on our life spans.

Every single hour of TV watching after the age of 25 reduces life expectancy by almost 22 minutes. So, if you spend 6 hours a day watching TV for years and years, you could knock 5 years off your lifespan.

You need to do more than exercise

A senior research fellow on the study, Dr J Lennart Veerman, points out that these concerning findings hold true even for people who exercise regularly.

He says, “A person who does a lot of exercise but watches 6 hours of TV per day might have a similar mortality risk as someone who does not exercise and watches no TV.”

We still do not know exactly why sitting should be so dangerous to health, even for those of us who are physically fit. The problem may be that when we sit our muscles don’t contract, they require less fuel and surplus blood sugar accumulates in the bloodstream contributing to the development of chronic illness.

David W Dunstan , a professor at the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute says, “The most striking feature of prolonged sitting is the absence of skeletal muscle contractions, particularly in the very large muscles of the lower limbs.”

So, don’t let hours go by without moving. Have a critical look at how you structure your day for opportunities to get your large, strong muscles in your legs and back moving.

More tips on increasing incidental activity

  • Don’t sit when you can stand i.e. eating breakfast, when waiting for the bus or train, for the duration of your commute, talking or texting on your phone
  • Get off the train or bus or train 1 stop early, or park the car further away, and enjoy the longer walk 
  • Set an alarm to make sure you get up once an hour and walk briskly somewhere—anywhere!
  • Get out for a walk during your scheduled breaks
  • Send your documents to a printer that is further away 
  • Stand during lunch breaks, coffee breaks
  • Hold stand-up meetings (they tend to be shorter!)
  • Do stretches exercises on the floor or in standing while watching TV
  • Or…simply explore ways to do your working standing!


Baker IDI Heart & Diabetes Institute
Australian Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle study, 2012

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