Sitting for a Long Time Not as Bad as Thought?

Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD on October 13, 2015

Oct. 13, 2015 -- New research challenges the idea that sitting for long periods raises the risk of early death, even for people who are otherwise healthy.

The study, from the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, examined 3,720 men and 1,412 women who didn't have heart disease and were part of a long-term U.K. health study.

The participants had provided info about how long they spent sitting each week -- while they were at work, during leisure time, or when they were watching television -- during the late 1990s. They were then followed for 16 years to see what happened.

The researchers found no evidence that sitting, whether at home or at work, is tied to an increased risk of dying.

The study is published in the International Journal of Epidemiology.

The researchers say their findings challenge previous research suggesting that the act of sitting itself causes harm, even when people routinely walk a lot or do other exercise.

They say their results may be due in part to higher-than-average daily activity in this particular group of people, though. 

Obesity, Diabetes, and Heart Health

Previous studies have linked too much sitting with being overweight and obese, type 2 diabetes, some types of cancer, and early death.

Prolonged sitting is thought to slow the metabolism, which affects the body's ability to control blood sugar, blood pressure, and break down body fat.

"Our study overturns current thinking on the health risks of sitting and indicates that the problem lies in the absence of movement rather than the time spent sitting itself," says researcher Melvyn Hillsdon, from the University of Exeter.

"The results cast doubt on the benefits of sit-stand work stations, which employers are increasingly providing to promote healthy working environments."

Lead researcher Richard Pulsford says "encouraging people to be more active should still be a public health priority."

Stay Active

More research is needed on inactive behavior and its impact on health, says Emily Reeve, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation.

"We know that breaking up sitting time can be beneficial to your heart health, and we want to encourage people to stay active and keep moving," she says.

"If you’re watching television you can reduce your sitting time by getting up [during a commercial] to make a cup of tea, or if you work in an office use opportunities to go and talk to a colleague rather than sending an email."


Show Sources


Pulsford, R. International Journal of Epidemiology, October 2015.

University of Exeter.

British Heart Foundation.

© 2015 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved. View privacy policy and trust info