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Exercise Doesn't Nullify Prolonged Periods of Sitting

You might be thinking, "But I work out several times a week." Research shows that while exercise is beneficial, it doesn't counteract the harm caused by extended periods of sitting.

Professor Marc Hamilton, Ph.D., from the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, informs Men's Health, "We observe it in people who smoke and those who don't. We see it in regular exercisers and non-exercisers alike. Sitting is an independent risk factor."

He goes on to elaborate, "The remedy for excessive sitting isn't more exercise. Exercise is certainly beneficial, but the average individual could never do enough to offset the effects of prolonged hours spent in a chair."

As Katy Bowman, a scientist and author of the book "Move Your DNA: Restore Your Health Through Natural Movement," told Reuters:

"You can't compensate for 10 hours of inactivity with one hour of exercise."

The reason? Extended sitting sessions actually alter your body's metabolism. Gavin Bradley, Director of Active Working, an international organisation dedicated to reducing excessive sitting, explains a part of the process, "Metabolism slows down by 90% after 30 minutes of sitting. The enzymes responsible for moving harmful fat from your arteries to your muscles, where it can be burned off, decelerate. The muscles in your lower body become inactive. And after two hours, good cholesterol decreases by 20%. Just getting up for five minutes can kickstart things again. These actions are so simple that they almost seem foolish."

Toni Yancey, Professor of Health Services at UCLA's Fielding School of Public Health, describes the process: "Sitting shuts down electrical activity in the legs. It makes the body less responsive to insulin, causes a drop in calorie burning, and slows the breakdown of harmful blood fats, reducing 'good' HDL cholesterol."

Sitting and the Increased Risk of Obesity

Dr. Levine initiated his investigation into the perils of sitting and the advantages of standing desks because he sought to understand why some individuals gain weight while others don't. For his study, he put non-exercising office workers on a 1,000-calorie diet without altering their exercise routine. The outcome was mixed: some gained weight, while others lost weight.

He then equipped participants with underwear lined with sensors to monitor their daily movements. They uncovered the missing link: the group losing weight was moving around approximately 2.25 hours more each day than the weight-gaining group.

Standing burns an average of 50 more calories per hour.

If you stand for three hours a day, five days a week, it adds up to 750 calories burned. Over a year, this amounts to 30,000 calories, nearly equivalent to shedding 9 pounds. It's akin to completing about 10 marathons annually, which is why Dr. Levine staunchly advocates for standing desks. "Sitting is more perilous than smoking, claims James Levine, Professor of Medicine at the Mayo Clinic, in an interview with the LA Times. "It claims more lives than HIV and is riskier than parachuting. We are lethally sedentary; the chair is plotting our demise."

You may have heard the adage "sitting is the new smoking," often attributed to Dr. Levine. He isn't the sole proponent of the idea that our sedentary habits are leading us towards ill-health. What are you doing as you read this? Sipping a cup of tea? Taking a break from work? Preparing for bedtime? Regardless of your activity, chances are you're seated. We understand – that chair is invitingly comfortable. But what's the alternative? Stand on the tube?

Most of us are familiar with the phrase "sitting is the new smoking," highlighting the growing problem of sedentary lifestyles in the United States. But is this notion accurate? Is sitting in a chair genuinely detrimental to your health? Let's delve into the matter.


  • Over 25% of American adults spend more than 8 hours sitting every day. Of these, 44% engage in minimal to no exercise.

  • The average American watches approximately 3 hours of television daily.

  • The average American engages in less than 20 minutes of physical activity each day.

  • 60-75 minutes of moderate activity (such as brisk walking) can counteract the negative effects of prolonged sitting.

A 2011 study examined the habits of 800,000 individuals and their sitting behaviour. The results revealed that those who sit the most, in comparison to those who sit the least, face a greater risk of disease and mortality:

  • A 112% increased risk of diabetes.

  • A 147% increased risk of cardiovascular events such as heart attacks and strokes.

  • A 90% increased risk of death due to cardiovascular events.

  • A 49% increased risk of death from any cause.


Sitting can be incredibly relaxing. So, why is it so detrimental? Here's what transpires when you spend excessive time in a seated position:

  • Blood flow decelerates, potentially leading to the accumulation of fatty acids in blood vessels, contributing to heart disease.

  • Prolonged sitting can lead to insulin resistance, a precursor to type 2 diabetes and obesity, both major risk factors for heart disease.

  • A study in 2018 found that 82% of individuals suffering from blood clots had spent significantly more time sitting compared to the remaining 18%.

  • The body's ability to metabolise fats slows down. When sitting, the production of lipoprotein lipase, a critical enzyme for fat breakdown, drops by about 90%. Consequently, the body stores fat rather than utilising it.


Sitting is unavoidable, but here's how you can mitigate its adverse effects:

  • Set a timer to remind yourself to get up and move every hour. Stand, walk around, stretch – you can even use smartphone apps as reminders!

  • Pay attention to your posture. Poor posture can lead to bone damage, reduced blood circulation, fatigue, and muscle weakness. If you must sit, maintain proper posture by keeping your shoulders back, chin tucked, and stomach engaged to keep muscles active, bones aligned, and blood flowing.

  • Consider a standing desk if feasible. Not only will your heart benefit, but standing desks have been shown to enhance cognitive function, creativity, and productivity.

  • Incorporate daily exercise into your routine. Go for a walk during lunch, plan to attend a fitness class, or opt for the distant parking spot. Every minute of physical activity counts!

In recent years, it has been stated that "sitting is as harmful as smoking." While it's true that both sitting and smoking have detrimental effects on health, it's challenging to draw a direct comparison between them. The distinction lies in societal attitudes: one has been stigmatised while the other has been normalised and expanded upon.

We need to quicly mention N.E.A.T

Increasing physical activity through routine tasks can boost Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT), which encompasses all daily activities aside from sleeping, eating, and exercise. Levels of NEAT ranges widely, with variance of up to 2000 kilocalories per day between two individuals of similar size.

NEAT contributes to energy expenditure and has benefits for longevity and weight management. In regions with long-lived individuals, people naturally engage in NEAT activities like gardening and household chores. Managing body weight involves finding a balance between energy input and output, with NEAT playing a crucial role. For an average worker spending most of her/his time in a seated position, occupational NEAT is relatively low and associated energy costs range at a maximum of 700 kcal per day. A comparable person working mainly in a STANDING position can increase their occupational NEAT to up to 1400 kcal per day 

To enhance NEAT, individuals can take simple steps such as using stairs, walking or cycling for transportation, parking farther from destinations, doing household chores regularly, and incorporating standing into work routines. Additionally, taking walking breaks during work hours and walking to various places, like the grocery store or coffee meet-ups, can further increase NEAT and promote a healthier, longer life.


Thus, occupations relying on intense physical activity can expend 1500 kcal per day more than a sedentary job or you can add in NEAT into your day job! 

Taking a break is essential, but when does "taking a break" transform into leading a sedentary life? Examine the hours in your day. How many of them are spent in a chair? Be honest with yourself. While sitting at your desk may not be equivalent to hanging out in a smoking area, it could potentially yield similar outcomes.


· Ekelund U, Steene-Johannessen J, Brown WJ, et al. 2016, ‘Does physical activity attenuate, or even eliminate, the detrimental association of sitting time with mortality? A harmonised meta-analysis of data from more than 1 million men and women’, The Lancet, vol. 388, pp. 1302–10.

· Sedentary behaviour, 2014, Australian Government Department of Health.

· Move more, sit less, Heart Foundation, Australia.

· Physical inactivity a leading cause of disease and disability, warns WHO, 2002, World Health Organization.

· Having desk job 'doubles risk' of heart attack, 2012, NHS choices.

· Wilmot EG, Edwardson CL, Achana FA et al. 2012, ‘Sedentary time in adults and the association with diabetes, cardiovascular disease and death: systematic review and meta-analysis’, Diabetologia, vol. 55, no. 11, pp. 2895–2905.

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