The Fitness Doctor: Are You Sitting Too Much?

Fitness Dr: Are You Sitting Too Much?
By Dr. Fredrick Peters

New research is adding further weight to the argument that prolonged sitting may be hazardous to your health. An international study surveying more than 100,000 individuals in twenty-one countries found that people who sat for six to eight hours a day had a 12-13% increased risk for early death and heart disease, while those who sat for more than eight hours daily increased that to a sobering 20%.

The study is published in the journal Jama Cardiology. Their research followed individuals over an average of eleven years and determined that high amounts of sitting time were associated with increased risk of early death and cardiovascular disease. While sitting was problematic in all countries, it was especially so in low-income and lower-middle-income countries.

“The overarching message here is to minimize how much you sit. If you must sit, getting in more exercise during other times of the day will offset that risk.” Not surprising, those who sat the most and were the least active had the highest risk — up to 50% — while those who sat the most but were also the most active had a substantially lower risk of about 17%.

For those sitting more than four hours a day, replacing a half hour of sitting with exercise reduced the risk by two percent. With only one in four people meeting the activity guidelines, there’s a real opportunity for people to increase their activity and reduce their chances of early death and heart disease.

The study found a particular association in lower income countries, leading researchers to speculate that it may be because sitting in higher income countries is typically associated with higher socio-economic status and better paying jobs. Clinicians should focus on less sitting and more activity as it’s a low-cost intervention that can have enormous benefit.

But while clinicians need to get the message out about countering sitting with activity, individuals need to better assess their lifestyles and take their health seriously. The study found that a combination of sitting, and inactivity, accounted for 8.8% of all deaths, which is close to the contribution of smoking (10.6 %). It’s a global problem that has a remarkably simple fix. Scheduling time to get out of that chair is a great start.

Stand Up! It Could Also Help You Lose Weight
You might want to read this on your feet. A new study found that standing instead of sitting for six hours a day could prevent weight gain and help people to lose weight.

A 145 lb. person could lose five lbs per year by standing instead of sitting for six hours a day! Prolonged sitting has been linked to the obesity epidemic, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. Americans sit for up to seven hours a day, and even physically active people may spend most of the day in a chair.

This research examined whether standing burns more calories than sitting. The researchers analyzed results from a total of fotty-six studies with 1,184 participants in all. Participants, on average, were thirty-three years old, 60% were men, and the average body mass index and weight were 24 kg/m2 and 65 kg, respectively.

The researchers found that standing burned 0.15 kcal per minute more than sitting. By substituting standing for sitting for six hours a day, a 65 kg person would expend an extra 54 kcal a day. Assuming no increase in food intake, that would equate to 2.5 kg in one year and 10 kg in four years.

Senior author Professor Francisco Lopez-Jimenez, Chief of Preventive Cardiology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, US, said: “Standing not only burns more calories, but the additional muscle activity is also linked to lower rates of heart attacks, strokes, and diabetes, so the benefits of standing could go beyond weight control.”

The gap in energy expenditure between standing and sitting could be even greater than the study found. Participants were standing still, while in reality people make small movements while standing.

“Our results might be an underestimate because when people stand, they tend to make spontaneous movements like shifting weight or swaying from one foot to another, taking small steps forward and back. People may even be more likely to walk to the filing cabinet or trash bin,” said Professor Lopez-Jimenez.

The authors concluded that replacing standing for sitting could be another behavior change to help reduce the risk of long-term weight gain. They suggest more research is needed to see whether such a strategy is effective and practical. Data is also needed, they say, on the long-term health implications of standing for extended periods.

Professor Lopez-Jimenez said, “It’s important to avoid sitting for hours at a time. Standing is a very good first step — no pun intended — to avoid this mindset of sitting interminably without moving. Who knows, it may also prompt some people to do a little more and take up some mild physical activity, which would be even more beneficial.”
And yes… as soon as I read this, I stood up.

*Dr. Peters is the founder of “The Fitness Doctor” ( He is also a Professor of Applied Exercise Science at Concordia University. He has a Ph.D. in Physiology from Kent State University and is a certified member of the American College of Sports Medicine. Dr. Peters was born and raised in the Cleveland area and is a graduate of St. Ignatius High School and John Carroll University. He can be reached at [email protected].


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