Sitting Disease

Whether for work, leisure or staying inside to avoid crazy weather, sitting has become a regular activity for many of us. Spending your days sitting is an enticing offer for a brief period but if sitting becomes a leisure-time activity and the way you spend most of your days (winter, spring, summer, fall) you may be putting yourself at risk for significant, negative long-term health effects – a condition referred to as “sitting disease.”

Let us look at what many of our days are becoming: technology has made our lives easier in many ways but it has also reduced our need to MOVE. Jobs that involve mostly sitting, long commute times, and home life in front of books/TVs/computers add up to many hours of SITTING and recent research has suggested that increased sit time, regardless of additional amount of physical activity, has correlated with increased incidence of, and increased mortality rates from, cardiovascular disease, overweight/obesity, and metabolic disorders, among other causes of death (2010 American Cancer Society). Guidelines exist for increasing physical activity, but it is important to acknowledge the impact of sitting and address the growing evidence for decreasing sit time.

Previous guidelines from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the American Heart Association recommended a MINIMUM of 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity at least five days per week (or 1.25 hours of vigorous activity per week) IN ADDITION TO light intensity activities of daily living (standing, walking, lifting light objects, light housework). With the “advancements” in today’s society that limit our need to move, and a trend toward sedentary behavior, many adults have put themselves in a position for a decreased baseline level of activity.

A 2008 study out of Vanderbilt University looked at how much of our time is spent sitting, estimating American adults may be spending an average of 55% of their waking hours sedentary! How is this time spent? For many, it is in front of the TV; a 2012 study of adult television viewing found that those who reported more than 7 hours per day watching television had a 50% greater risk of death from all causes, and twice the risk of death from cardiovascular disease than those who watched less than 1 hour per day, REGARDLESS of additional amount of physical activity.

Sitting in front of the TV and other sedentary behaviors/uninterrupted sit times are associated with:

  • Amount of intense physical activity.
  • Dietary quality.
  • Poor health conditions (hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, gall bladder disease, and bone health).
  • All-cause mortality.
  • Negative effects on cardiovascular risk such as waist circumference, blood glucose and triglycerides.
  • A poorer cardiac health profile when compared to those with frequent breaks in sitting, regardless of additional high intensity physical activity.

Given results from studies of sit time, the 2011 American College of Sports Medicine Guidelines for Exercise and Health have provided recommendations addressing frequent breaks from prolonged sitting. The Guidelines state, “In addition to exercising regularly, there are health benefits in concurrently reducing total time engaged in sedentary pursuits and also by interspersing frequent, short bouts of standing and physical activity between periods of sedentary activity, even in physically active adults.”

“The scientific evidence we reviewed is indisputable,” said Carol Ewing Garber, Ph.D., FAHA, FACSM, chair of the ACSM Guidelines writing committee and associate professor of movement sciences at the Teachers College of Columbia University. “When it comes to exercise, the benefits far outweigh the risks. A program of regular exercise – beyond activities of daily living – is essential for most adults… It is no longer enough to consider whether an individual engages in adequate amounts of weekly exercise, we also need to determine how much time a person spends in sedentary pursuits, like watching television or working on a computer. Health-and-fitness professionals must be concerned with these activities as well.”

For those who have found themselves trending toward a sedentary lifestyle but want to become more active, we advise beginning with reducing sitting time and increasing regular light intensity activities. Given that studies have shown that uninterrupted sitting can most negatively affect health, we can specifically look at office-based workers – a large occupational, highly sedentary group – to target for intervention. Strategies individuals could consider include:

  • standing and taking a break from the computer every 30 min
  • taking standing breaks in sitting time during the long meetings
  • standing during phone calls
  • walking to a colleagues’ desk instead of phoning or e-mailing
  • using a height-adjustable desk to enable frequent transitions between working in a standing or seated position (or better yet, a TREADMILL DESK!)
  • using a headset or the speaker phone during teleconferences to enable more standing during the meeting

**Check out these alternative-desk options!**

Sit-Stand Desktop Workstation

Treadmill Desk

How do you spend your day? Calculate your risk here  and start making small changes today!

Additional Links:

Why Stand Up at Work – 44 Benefits The Complete List – from

Sitting Disease Infographic

The Health Hazards of Sitting – Washington Post article

Is Sitting the new Smoking?

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