Prolonged Sitting Boosts Bad Health

Daily Inactivity, Not Just Lack of Exercise, Could Be Making You Sick

Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on January 19, 2010

Jan. 19, 2010 -- If you are reading this while sitting down, you might want to stand up for moment.

A new editorial published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine suggests that people who sit still for prolonged periods of time -- such as desk workers or couch potatoes -- have a higher risk of disease than those who move a muscle every now and then in a non-exercise manner, such as walking up the stairs to grab a cup of coffee.

Prolonged sitting promotes a lack of whole-body muscle movement, which the Swedish-based researchers say is the more correct way to define sedentary behavior. Many people mistakenly believe the term “sedentary” refers to people who do not exercise. But the research team proposes that sedentary behavior is instead a distinct class of behaviors, unrelated to a lack of exercise, that boost bad health. Behaviors can include habits like TV watching. For example, recent evidence has shown that sitting in front of the TV for hours on end can raise your risk of early death from heart disease. A woman’s risk of metabolic syndrome, a precursor to diabetes and heart disease, jumps 26% for every extra hour she sits in front of the TV, according to one cited study. Whole-body muscular inactivity associated with prolonged sitting has also been strongly linked to obesity and even certain types of cancer.

Although the cause-effect relationship between prolonged sitting and bad health needs to be more clearly established, researchers say it appears that muscle movement and contractions may play a role in controlling important blood fats.

The editorialists warn that the health of people who are glued to the TV or tied to a desk for extended periods is especially at risk if they forgo exercise altogether.

They encourage health care practitioners to emphasize the importance of simple, non-exercise activities, and how such simple movements may ward off bad health. “Climbing the stairs, rather than using elevators and escalators, five minutes of break during sedentary work, or walking to the store rather than taking the car will be as important as exercise,” the team says in a news release.

Show Sources


Ekblom-Bak, E. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 2010.

Dunstan, D. Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association, Jan. 26, 2010; vol 121.

News release, BMJ Specialist Journals.

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