Sitting Health Risks

Wow, that’s a pretty charged title isn’t it?  I know I don’t exercise or move my body as much as I should but sitting too much killing me?  Are you kidding?


The human body is a kinetic motion machine.  As we have discussed in previous posts, it is designed to move.  It is supposed to run and jump and hunt and gather. 

Before the industrial revolution, human beings had to move constantly all day in order to survive.  They had to hunt and plant and butcher and harvest and chop wood and start fires and prepare food and bake bread and wash and then start it all over the next day. This kind of lifestyle never allowed for much sitting around.  People were moving from sunrise to sunset.

Compare that to the typical lifestyle we have in 2011.  Now instead of moving all day in order to make our living, we typically sit still in a chair in front of a desk or a computer. 

We are rewarded in work, transportation, entertainment and even in our social lives by sitting still in a chair.  We sit to drive, to eat, to work at computers, to watch TV and to socialize.

Culturally we have evolved into very sedentary beings. 

Sedentary behavior is typically defined as any behavior with an exceedingly low energy expenditure. In general, this means that almost any time you are sitting (e.g. working on a computer, watching TV, driving) or lying down, you are engaging in a sedentary behavior.

Up until very recently, referring to someone as sedentary meant simply that they were not meeting current guidelines for physical activity. In simple terms, if you were exercising for 60 plus minutes per day, you were considered physically active. If you were exercising 10 minutes per day or less, you were sedentary.

As it turns out however, sedentary time is closely associated with the same health risks regardless of how much you exercise every day.  So you can still be considered very sedentary even while exercising vigorously for an hour or more everyday.

What?  How is this possible?  I thought by going to the gym and doing my workout every day I was doing something good for myself and for my health.

Now don’t get me wrong.  This news does not mean you should give up your workouts.  Physical exercise is definitely something that has many benefits. But, make sure that you don’t fall into the habit of exercising for an hour and then sitting still for the remainder of the day.

Both exercise and moving your body more throughout the day need to be addressed to be at your healthiest.  This can be summed up with the following:

Sitting too much is not the same as exercising too little.

Let’s look at how sitting still relates to your health and how it can potentially kill you.

A 2009 study by Dr Peter Katzmarzyk and colleagues showed that the more time spent sitting was associated with an increased risk dying from any cause and risk of dying from cardiovascular disease was also increased. 

The interesting thing about this study was that it showed that those increased risks of dying were independent of how much a person exercised!  Even after controlling for age, smoking, and physical activity levels, the people who sat the most were 50% more likely to die in the follow up period than those who sat the least.

So what this means in simple terms is that all things being equal, the person who sits the most will be more at risk of dying than the person who sits the least.

Hence, sitting can kill you.

Ok, so clearly that’s the bad news.  There is some good news for those of you that have jobs that require you to sit for many hours in a row.

The Australian Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle (AusDiab) Study showed that important indicators of health such as waist circumference, body mass index, glucose tolerance, blood lipid levels were improved the more breaks that were taken during sedentary behaviors.

Those who took breaks more often while sitting at a desk or while watching TV were less obese and had better overall levels of health. 

So if you have a ‘sitting’ job or you know you are guilty of sitting still in your leisure time, then try to take small breaks every once in awhile to decrease your overall health risks.

Some practical tips to add more movement into an otherwise sedentary day are as follows: 

       Walk up or down the stairs instead of taking the elevator.

       While working at your computer, set an alarm for every 30 minutes to get up and wiggle and stretch and move for 2 minutes then get back to work.

       Pace while you are on the phone….don’t sit in your chair

       If possible have a desk that can move from seated to standing height so you can change it up throughout your day.

       Some people have a treadmill desk where they walk as they type at their computer or as they read which will definitely add more movement to a job that usually involves only sitting.

       Sit on an exercise ball or an exercise disc while in front of your computer, it will keep your core musculature active and is much better than sitting still on a chair.

       When you are watching TV, get up and move every commercial to make yourself some tea or go to the washroom or even do a couple laps around the room.

       When driving for long distances, try to get out of the car and stretch every hour.

So as much as it seems strange to think that you are putting your health at risk with sitting still even when you diligently work out everyday, the evidence is clear that sitting too much really can kill you….or at least put you more at risk of dying.

So get your body moving with exercise definitely but throughout your day as well.  You will be healthier and happier as a result!

I think it’s time for a break. 🙂



Dr. Peggy Malone is a Chiropractor and an Athlete who helps other athletes to overcome injury and get back to their sport. She also inspires patients from all walks of life to take control of their health to be as happy and as healthy as they can be.

A former varsity Basketball and Rugby player, she has since entered the world of endurance athletics where she has completed 2 Ironman Triathlons, 3 Marathons, several Half Marathons and many other Triathlons, Road Races and Off-Road Adventure races of varying distances.

Her own athletic endeavors and injuries have given her valuable insight into working with athletes in her practice for both the care of injuries as well as for the improvement of athletic performance.