Why Sitting Too Much Is Seriously Bad for Your Health

Man in Suit Sitting DownModern 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.

This article explores why sitting too much is seriously bad for your health.

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 behavior, 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 (1, 2).

Bottom Line: Sitting too much is incredibly harmful. Humans now sit longer than ever before, with the average office worker sitting up to 15 hours a day.

Sitting Limits The Amount of Calories You Burn

Woman Sitting at Computer With Books

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 (3).

Sedentary behavior, 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 (4).

This is because farm workers spend most of their time walking and standing, rather than sitting in a chair.

Bottom Line: Sitting or lying down uses far less energy than standing or moving. This is why office workers may burn up to 1,000 fewer calories a day than agricultural workers.

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 behavior 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 (5).

Bottom Line: People who sit for long periods of time are more likely to be overweight or obese.

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 (6, 7).

However, even though the majority of evidence supports this finding, one study found no link between sitting time and overall mortality (8).

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

Bottom Line: The majority of evidence suggests that the most sedentary people have a much greater risk of dying early.

Sedentary Behavior Is Linked to Disease

Man Sitting at Desk

Sedentary behavior 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 (6, 7).

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

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 (9, 10).

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

Bottom Line: Long-term sedentary behavior increases the risk of health conditions like type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Inactivity is believed to play a direct role in the development of insulin resistance.

Exercise Doesn’t Completely Eliminate the Risk

Dumbbells

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 (11).

Additionally, a recent review of 47 studies found that prolonged sitting was strongly linked to negative health outcomes, regardless of exercise levels (6).

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

Bottom Line: Being physically active is incredibly beneficial, but exercise alone does not completely make up for the negative health effects of sitting.

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.