Could Your Sitting At Work Be Killing You?

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More than half our waking hours are spent sitting. And all that sitting could be sending us to an early grave. Even for those people who exercise.

As I remember, from my late teens to my mid-twenties I was a pretty consistent body weight. I didn’t give my weight much thought and staying the same weight was pretty easy.

From roughly 26, I started getting that belly. I didn’t notice at first. But then friends started teasing me about my ‘middle-age spread’ as they termed it.

I blamed a slowing metabolism.

Take a moment to think how your life altered from when you were 17 to 22 and from 24 to 29 Too much to think about? Limit that thought to your activity levels.

two man sitting
“Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.” – Warren Buffett

For me, I went from being a student to working. I went from playing pickup basketball to not wanting to sweat in my shirt and tie. I went from walking from one lecture to another to sitting on my butt all day.

My job, probably like yours, requires that I am sitting for long periods of the day.

And sitting for long periods of the day isn’t doing you or your body any favours. But after having a hard day at work sometimes all I want to do is get home and slob on the couch.

To take some time to relax and put my feet up. Everyone knows relaxation is necessary, but slobbing on the couch has adverse effects.

Just indulging in some decompression time after a long day at the office might harm you in the long run.

Think about it – sitting all day to come home and sit some more.

Sitting Time

More than 50% of the average human’s waking hours are spent sitting down, according to the Annals of Internal Medicine. Click To Tweet

We watch television, work at a computer, commute and engage in other physically inactive pursuits.

And all that sitting could be sending us to an early grave.

Even for those people who exercise up to an hour a day, say the Canadian researchers who did the study. Their findings came from 47 studies that looked at the health effects of sedentary behaviour.

The researchers adjusted for other types of activity people did. From leisure-time activities to vigorous exercise.

Related Post: A Plan To Stay Dementia Free

Over the course of these studies, people who sat for prolonged periods of time had a higher risk of dying. Even those who exercised regularly.

And if you do little or no exercise the negative effects are even more pronounced.

Another study compared two sets of adults. One who spent less than two hours a day in front of the TV and the other who spent more than four hours a day on screen-based entertainment.

Those with the greater screen time had:

  • A 50% increased risk of death from any cause.
  • A 125% increased risk of events associated with cardiovascular diseases, such as angina or heart attack.

Vegging out in front of the TV isn’t the only concern

Any extended sitting — such as behind a desk at work or behind the wheel — can be harmful.

Prolonged sitting is responsible for more than 430,000 deaths from a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Click To Tweet
man sitting down in front of TV
“Nothing’s going to come to you by sitting around and waiting for it.” – Zoe Kazan

Many who are aware of the risk attempt to balance the perils of sitting by working out.

Unfortunately, the risk is not offset by spending a few hours a week engaged in moderate or vigorous activity. Previous studies have suggested that physical activity can offset the harms of the prolonged sitting.

But current research claims that is not the case. A new statement from the American Heart Association (AHA) suggests that sitting too much is detrimental to health.

And it makes no difference how much exercise you do.

Sitting Less, Moving More

Deborah Rohm Young, Ph.D., chair of the AHA, highlighted that Americans spend too much time sitting.

The review revealed that the average American young adult is sedentary for around 6 to 8 hours a day. That increases, with adults aged 60 and older spend 8.6 to 9.6 hours a day being sedentary.

When we are sedentary, we have an energy expenditure of 1.5 metabolic equivalents (METs) or less. Slow, leisurely walking or light housework increases energy expenditure to around 2.5 METs, while moderate physical activity increases energy expenditure to around 3 METs or more.

Young and colleagues found that spending too much time sitting raises the risk of impaired insulin sensitivity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and death.

Related Post: Childhood Obesity

The review backed up the point that exercise does not offset the harm of prolonged sitting. Even with moderate to vigorous exercise.

The verdict is out, regardless of how much one exercises, prolonged sitting is harmful to your health.

Dr Young says that they are unable to pinpoint exactly how long is too long when it comes to sitting, at present.

For now, the best advice is to increase the amount of time spent being active and reduce the amount of time spent sitting.

Exactly how being sedentary contributes to poor health isn’t clear.

But some research suggests that it has harmful effects on sugar and fat metabolism. Both of which affect a person’s risk of diabetes and heart disease, suggests Dr I-Min Lee, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. Here are some ways that sitting impacts your body.

The Effects Of Sitting On Your Organs


Blood flows more sluggishly and muscles burn less fat during a long sit. This allows fatty acids to clog the heart. Prolonged sitting is associated with elevated cholesterol and high blood pressure. And more sedentary people are more than twice as likely to have cardiovascular disease than the least sedentary.


This organ produces insulin, a hormone that carries glucose to cells for energy. But cells in idle muscles don’t respond as readily to insulin, so the pancreas produces more and more. This can lead to diabetes and other diseases. A 2011 study found a decline in insulin response after just eight hours of being sedentary.


Studies have linked sitting to a greater risk of colon, breast and endometrial cancers. The reason is unclear, but one theory is that excess insulin encourages cell growth. Another theory is that antioxidant production is boosted by regular movement. These antioxidants kill cell-damaging and potentially cancer-causing free radicals.

The Effects Of Sitting On Your Muscles


Your abdominal muscles keep you upright when you stand, move or even sit up straight. They go unused when you slump in a chair. The posture-wrecking alliance of tight back muscles and wimpy abs exaggerate the spine’s natural arch. This is called hyperlordosis, or swayback.


Flexible hips help keep you balanced. Chronic sitters have short and tight hip flexors as they rarely extend their hip flexor muscles. This causes a limitation in stride length and range of motion. Studies have found that decreased hip mobility is a primary reason older adults tend to fall.


Sitting requires your glutes to do nothing, and they get used to it. Soft glutes hurt your stability, your ability to push off and your ability to maintain a powerful stride.

The Effects Of Sitting On Your Legs


Sitting for extended periods causes fluid to pool in the legs due to slower blood flow. Problems range from varicose veins and swollen ankles to blood clots developing to deep vein thrombosis (DVT).


Weight-bearing activities such as running and walking stimulate hip and lower-body bones. This makes them grow thicker, denser and stronger. Scientists attribute the recent surge in cases of osteoporosis to a lack of activity.

The Effects Of Sitting On Your Head


Working muscles serve to pump fresh blood and oxygen towards the brain. This triggers the release of all sorts of mind and mood enhancing chemicals. When we are sitting for a long time, everything slows, including brain function.


If you crane your neck forward toward a keyboard or tilt your head to cradle a phone, this can lead to permanent imbalances as the cervical vertebrae are put under strain.


When the neck slouches so does the shoulders and back. Slumping forward overextends shoulder and back muscles as well. In particular the trapezius, which connects the neck and shoulders.

The Effects Of Sitting On Your Back


The soft discs between vertebrae contract and expand and like sponges when we move, absorbing nutrients and fresh blood. A long time spent sitting squashes the discs squash together unevenly. Collagen hardens around tendons and ligaments.


Individuals who sit for longer are at greater risk for herniated lumbar discs. Travelling through the abdominal cavity is a muscle called the psoas. When it contracts, it pulls the upper lumbar spine forward. Upper-body weight rests entirely on the ischial tuberosity (sitting bones) instead of being distributed along the arch of the spine.

How To Avoid The Dangers Of Sitting

Sitting less and moving more is the only solution. Whenever you have the chance stand rather than sit. Then progress to making opportunities to get up and walk while you work.

man dance
“Life’s short. Anything could happen, and it usually does, so there is no point in sitting around thinking about all the ifs, ands and buts.” – Amy Winehouse

For example:

  • Stand while talking on the phone or eating lunch.
  • If your work is sitting at a desk try a standing desk. Or improvise with a counter or high table.
  • Rather than meeting in a conference room, walk laps with your colleagues.
  • Taking the stairs whenever possible can jumpstart your heart rate and blood circulation.
  • When you park further away from your destination, it necessitates a longer walk.
  • Make sure you move around for at least 10 minutes every hour by setting a reminder on your phone.
  • Drop the inter-office email and walk to your coworkers or classmates and speak in person.
  • Get some time in at the gym.
  • Go for a walk during your lunch or whenever you can.
  • Get some time in at the gym.
  • Stretch often and perform leg raises under your desk.

The impact of movement can be profound

For starters, you’ll burn more calories.

Being active and burning more calories has many benefits. It not only helps with weight loss and it improves energy levels. But as an additional bonus, it seems to trigger important processes related to the breakdown of fats and sugars within the body.

These processes stall and your health risks increase when you are sitting.

When you’re standing or moving, you kick the processes back into action.

Remember that, while crashing on the couch after a mentally exhausting day might seem appealing, it does nothing for your physical health.

Incredibly, fear of an early death doesn’t usually motivate people to change their habits. But losing weight might be the perfect incentive.

So when you get the urge to sit down remember that you burn 30% fewer calories than when you are standing. It’s not a huge amount but it adds up over time and contributes to weight control.

What are your tricks to moving more and sitting less?

Drop a comment below, and let me know how you keep yourself from being sedentary. You might be interested in how sleep is integral to staying healthy.”

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David Brett-Williams