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A growing body of scientific research shows that excessive sitting is lethal and has been linked to cardiovascular disease, diabetes mellitus, obesity, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, back pain, ankle swelling, and deep vein thrombosis. More worrying is that going to the gym does not offset the harm of sitting, and excess sitting harms lean and obese people alike.

 A note from Sheena:

This article is adapted from a wonderful website Authority Nutrition – see

Having recently being spending some time as a health and wellness consultant to a corporate I was interested to notice how my weight was creeping on. I put this down to less activity and more computer time during the working day (which I actually monitored) and the higher levels of stress. Thankfully the weight is coming off, but it encouraged me to thoroughly research the negative effects of excessive sitting. Now deemed worse than smoking, sitting for long periods of time is a serious thing. So take a stand and get up!!

Modern society has been engineered for sitting.

As a result, humans spend more time off their feet than ever before.

However, recent studies show that all this sitting is doing much more harm than anyone thought.

People Are Sitting More Than Ever Before

The idea that sitting can be harmful seems ridiculous at first thought.

Sitting is a default human body posture, and when people work, socialize, study or travel, they often do so in a seated position. It’s second nature.

However, that doesn’t mean sitting is harmless. It’s like eating — necessary, yet incredibly harmful if you do too much of it.

Unfortunately, sedentary behaviour, or sitting too much, is now at an all-time high.

Over half of the average person’s day is spent sitting, doing things like driving, working at a desk or watching television.

In fact, the typical office worker may spend up to a whopping 15 hours per day sitting. Agricultural workers, on the other hand, only sit about 3 hours a day 

Sitting Limits the Amount of Calories You Burn

Your everyday non-exercise activities, like standing, walking and even fidgeting, still burn calories.

This energy expenditure is known as non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT), the lack of which is an important risk factor for weight gain.

Sedentary behaviour, like sitting or lying down, involves very little energy expenditure. It severely limits the calories you burn through NEAT.

To put this in perspective, studies report that agricultural workers can burn up to 1,000 more calories per day than people working desk jobs. This is because farm workers spend most of their time walking and standing, rather than sitting in a chair.

The Longer You Sit, the Fatter You Get

When it comes to weight management, the fewer calories you burn, the more likely you are to gain weight. This is why sedentary behaviour is so closely linked to obesity.

In fact, research shows that obese individuals sit for an average of 2 hours longer each day than lean people do.

Sitting Is Linked to Early Death

Observational data from over 1 million people shows that the more sedentary you are, the more likely you are to die early.

In fact, the most sedentary people had a 22–49% greater risk of early death.

However, even though the majority of evidence supports this finding, one study found no link between sitting time and overall mortality.

This study had some flaws, which likely explain why it contradicts all other research in the area.

Sedentary Behaviour Is Linked to Disease

Sedentary behaviour is consistently linked to more than 30 chronic diseases and conditions.

This includes a 112% increase in the risk of type 2 diabetes, and a 147% increase in heart disease risk.

Insulin resistance — a key driver of type 2 diabetes — has been a particular area of interest for those researching sedentary behaviour.

Studies have shown that walking fewer than 1,500 steps per day, or sitting for long periods without reducing calorie intake, can cause a major increase in insulin resistance.

Researchers believe that being sedentary has a direct effect on insulin resistance, and this can happen in as little as 1 day.

Exercise Doesn’t Completely Eliminate the Risk

While regular exercise is always recommended, it can’t completely offset all the health risks of sitting too much.

One study tested this theory by measuring metabolic markers in 18 people following different exercise protocols.

When the entire day is spent sitting, one hour of intense exercise cannot make up for the negative effects of inactivity.

Additionally, a recent review of 47 studies found that prolonged sitting was strongly linked to negative health outcomes, regardless of exercise levels.

As expected, the negative effects were even greater for people who rarely exercised.

Designing a Chair-Based World Was a Mistake

Modern humans spend a lot of time sitting, and are only now beginning to realize how bad it is for health.

That’s not to say you should never sit down and relax, just that you should try to minimize the time you spend sitting during the workday.

Minimizing sedentary time is just as important for health as a nutritious diet and regular exercise.

Exercising for 60 minutes a day, so that you can sit or lie down for the other 23 hours, is not going to cut it.

You can’t outrun a bad diet, and you can’t out-exercise a sedentary lifestyle.

What are the solutions

Many overseas and NZ companies are introducing standing desks, treadmill workstations and even a bell to get people up and standing regularly. If you are office or desk bound then the responsibility also needs to be yours. Perhaps you can request new standing work stations, set your own alarm to ensure you stand up for 5 minutes every 60 mins, take a walk at lunch time, or invest in a pedometer/activity gadget… Have a think – what can you do to help you and others to lead a happier, healthier life?

Next steps

Please do not hesitate to contact me to discuss how I can assist you in your health and wellness needs including physical activity.


Authority Nutrition, (2016). Why sitting is bad for you. Retrieved from .

 Dunstan, D. W., Howard, B., Healy, G. N., & Owen, N. (2012). Too much sitting–a health hazard. Diabetes research and clinical practice97(3), 368-376.

Lopez-Jimenez, F. (2015). Standing for healthier lives—literally. European heart journal, ehv356. Retrieved form

Hart, J. (2015). Excessive sitting may be as harmful as smoking. Alternative and Complementary Therapies21(2), 68-70.

Owen, N., Bauman, A., & Brown, W. (2009). Too much sitting: a novel and important predictor of chronic disease risk?. British journal of sports medicine43(2), 81-83.

Villablanca PA, Alegria JR, Mookadam F, Holmes Jr DR, Wright RS, Levine JA. Nonexercise Activity Thermogenesis in Obesity Management. Mayo Clin Proc. 2015;90(4):509–19

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