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May/June 2013
Too much sitting also seems to increase the
risk of death from cardiovascular disease and
One recent study compared adults who spent
less than two hours a day in front of the TV or
other screen-based entertainment with those
who logged more than four hours a day of
recreational screen time. Those with greater
screen time had:
• A nearly 50 percent increased risk of death
from any cause
• About a 125 percent increased risk of events
associated with cardiovascular disease, such
as chest pain (angina) or heart attack
The increased risk was separate from other
traditional risk factors for cardiovascular
disease, such as smoking or high blood
Sitting in front of the TV isn’t the only
concern. Any extended sitting - such as behind
a desk at work or behind the wheel - can be
James A. Levine, M.D., Ph.D.
Sitting risks: How harmful is too much sitting?
What are the risks of sitting too much?
harmful. What’s more, spending a few hours
a week at the gym or otherwise engaged in
moderate or vigorous activity doesn’t seem to
significantly offset the risk.
Rather, the solution seems to be less sitting
and more moving overall. You might start by
simply standing rather than sitting whenever
you have the chance.
For example:
• Stand while talking on the phone or eating
• If you work at a desk for long periods of
time, try a standing desk - or improvise
with a high table or counter.
Better yet, think about ways to walk while you
• Walk laps with your colleagues rather
than gathering in a conference room for
• Position your work surface above a
treadmill - with a computer screen and
keyboard on a stand or a specialized
treadmill-ready vertical desk - so that you
can be in motion throughout the day.
The impact of movement - even leisurely
movement - can be profound. For starters,
you’ll burn more calories. This might lead to
weight loss and increased energy.
Even better, the muscle activity needed for
standing and other movement seems to trigger
important processes related to the breakdown
of fats and sugars within the body. When you
sit, these processes stall - and your health risks
increase. When you’re standing or actively
moving, you kick the processes back into
Researchers have linked sitting for long periods of time with a number of health concerns,
including obesity and metabolic syndrome - a cluster of conditions that includes increased
blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist and abnormal
cholesterol levels.