What are the risks of sitting too much?

Answer From Edward R. Laskowski, M.D.

When you sit, you use less energy than you do when you stand or move.

Research has linked sitting for long periods of time with a number of health concerns. They include obesity and a cluster of conditions — increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist and unhealthy cholesterol levels — that make up metabolic syndrome. Too much sitting overall and prolonged periods of sitting also seem to increase the risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Any extended sitting — such as at a desk, behind a wheel or in front of a screen — can be harmful.

Researchers analyzed 13 studies of sitting time and activity levels. They found that those who sat for more than eight hours a day with no physical activity had a risk of dying similar to that posed by obesity and smoking. However, unlike some other studies, this analysis of data from more than 1 million people found that 60 to 75 minutes of moderately intense physical activity a day countered the effects of too much sitting. Other studies have found that for people who are most active sitting time contributes little to their risk of death.

Overall, research seems to point to the fact that less sitting and more moving contribute to better health. You might start by simply standing rather than sitting when you have the chance. Or find ways to walk while you work. For example:

  • Take a break from sitting every 30 minutes.
  • Stand while talking on the phone or watching television.
  • If you work at a desk, try a standing desk — or improvise with a high table or counter.
  • Walk with your colleagues for meetings rather than sitting in a conference room.
  • Position your work surface above a treadmill — with a computer screen and keyboard on a stand or a specialized treadmill-ready vertical desk — so that you can be in motion throughout the day.

The impact of movement — even leisurely movement — can be profound. For starters, you'll burn more calories. This might lead to weight loss and increased energy. Also, physical activity helps maintain muscle tone, your ability to move and your mental well-being, especially as you age.

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July 13, 2022 See more Expert Answers

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