It seems like a dramatic statement, but many physiologists agree that sitting can be just as dangerous to your health as smoking.

First coined by James A. Levine, MD, PhD, Obesity expert and former director of the Mayo Clinic, who claims that

“sitting is more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV and is more treacherous than parachuting. We are sitting ourselves to death.”

Dr Joan Vernikos, former director of NASA’s Life Sciences Division and author of “Sitting Kills, Movement Heals” agrees stating “we weren’t designed to sit.”

It is estimated that we spend more than half of our waking hours sitting while watching TV, driving or sitting at a desk. These numbers have most likely increased due to the pandemic, work-at-home and virtual school conditions.  


Multiple studies have demonstrated that the benefits of reduced sitting include:

Increased caloric expenditure, reduced body weight and lower obesity risk

It makes sense. When you stand, you burn an average of 50 more calories per hour than sitting. It seems like a small amount, but it can really add up. If you add 2 hours of standing to your daily routine, 5 days per week, that adds up to 26,000 additional calories per year, or 7 pounds either lost or not gained just by standing more. Studies confirm this. People who gain weight, move 2.25 less hours per day.  

Improved circulation

Just by standing you force muscles to contract, nerves to fire, blood to flow, energy systems to function and it keeps your metabolism revving at a higher level than sitting.

Increased muscle activity

If you’re sitting, the lower body muscles are inactive. Just by standing, you involve multiple muscle groups that are required to contract resulting in better muscle conditioning.

Reduced risk of Cancer

Several studies have demonstrated that the risk of cancer increases with inactivity including breast cancer, colon cancer, lung cancer, prostate cancer, endometrial cancer and ovarian cancer. 

Reduced risk for cardiovascular disease

Some studies have shown that excessive sitters are 64%-125% more likely to experience and/or die from heart diseas

Improved Insulin sensitivity by 16% and reduced risk for Type 2 Diabetes

Improved blood lipid levels with triglycerides dropping by 32%, and LDL by 7%. 

Improved posture and reduced risk for back and neck pain

Your low back is exposed to 90% more pressure when sitting versus standing and your risk for kyphotic posture deviations and general tightness is greater when sitting  

Improved mental health and cognitive functioning

Studies have shown that anxiety, depression and cognitive degeneration is linked to inactivity and excessive sitting. In contrast, those who spend more time standing and moving report improved mood, reduced lethargy greater energy and enhanced productivity, even with just a short, 5 minute walk on the hour. Another study from Stanford University also found that taking a 5-minute walk on the hour helps enhance brain functioning. 

Increased life span

Studies show that reducing your sitting time, decreases your risk of dying and increases your life span. One study found that reducing your sitting time to 3 hours per day or less, increases your life expectancy by 2 years. 


Tips to increase your standing time:

Invest in a standing desk

If your body is accustomed to sitting and a sedentary lifestyle, don’t do too much, too soon. Start with a 50:50 ratio of standing to sitting and start with small standing increments of 20 minutes at a time. Changing positions is the most important factor. It’s far better to transition from standing to sitting and back to standing every 20-30 minutes than sit for 4 hours and stand for 4 hours at a time. 

Consider a treadmill desk

One year-long study found subjects lost 5 to 7.7 pounds when using a treadmill desk. They walked at a very slow rate of less than 2 miles per hour to prevent sweating while working. 

Set an alarm

Have your computer trigger you to move your body every 30-60 minutes, whether standing or sitting. Our bodies are meant to move.

Desk workout

Do 1-3 minutes of exercise throughout the day. You can do Chair Squats, One leg balance, Leg lifts to the front/side/rear, desk pushups, chair dips and more. It won’t be enough to work up a sweat but will keep your muscles toned and keep your blood flowing throughout the day

Schedule walk & talk meetings

Not only is this great for your body, but walk & talk meetings can be wonderful for creative thinking and brainstorming or just to connect with co-workers. 

Walking email

If you are working at the office, instead of sending a co-worker an email, walk to their desk to ask a question and/or provide information.

Take more steps

If you drive to work, park at the furthest parking spot. If you take C-tran, get off one stop early and walk it in. Instead of taking elevators or escalators, take the stairs

Exercise

Move your body and include cardio, muscle conditioning and stretching. Schedule ‘recess’ workouts or walking breaks in the middle of your day. It’s important to note though that exercise doesn’t counteract the effects of hours of extended sitting. Exercise is good but 30-60 minutes a few times per week doesn’t undue the damages of excessive sitting. If you exercise three hours per week, the question is ‘what are you doing the other 165 hours?’


For those who have had a difficult time adhering to a structured exercise program, this information should provide a simple way to increase your activity levels and improve your overall health. 

Yours in health & fitness,
Sherri McMillan

Sherri McMillan

Sherri McMillan

Sherri McMillan, holds a master's degree in exercise physiology and has been inspiring the world to adopt a fitness lifestyle for more than 30 years. She has received numerous industry awards including 2010 CanFitPro International Presenter of the Year, 2006 IDEA Fitness Director of the Year, 1998 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year, 1998 CanFitPro Fitness Presenter of the Year and 2005/2006 ACE Fitness Educator of the Year - Runner up. She is a fitness trainer, fitness columnist for various magazines and newspapers, author of five books and manuals including "Go For Fit - the Winning Way to Fat Loss" and "Fit over Forty" and the featured presenter in various fitness DVDs. She has presented hundreds of workshops to thousands of fitness leaders throughout Canada, Australia, Mexico, Jamaica, New Zealand, Germany, England, Spain, South America, Asia and the U.S. She is the owner of Northwest Personal Training in downtown Vancouver and Salmon Creek, hosts races at WHY Racing Events, participates in various community fundraisers and can be found running, biking, or hiking around the community. Find more information at nwpersonaltraining.com.

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