Too much sitting linked to heart disease, diabetes, premature death

Julie Corliss
Julie Corliss, Executive Editor, Harvard Heart Letter

Like many people, I have a job that involves sitting in front of a computer most of the day. Because I work from home, I don’t have to sit through a long commute, and my dog gets me up out of my chair for walks a couple times a day. Still, a new study about the health hazards of sitting too much (or what researchers call sedentary behavior) has made me more conscious of how much uninterrupted chair time I’m logging each day.

According to the report, published in this week’s Annals of Internal Medicine, more than half of the average person’s waking hours are spent sitting: watching television, working at a computer, commuting, or doing other physically inactive pursuits. But all that sitting could be sending us to an early grave—even those folks who exercise up to an hour a day, say the Canadian researchers who did the study.

Their findings were gleaned from 47 studies that looked at the health effects of sedentary behavior. The researchers adjusted for other types of activity people did, from leisure-time activities to vigorous exercise. Over the course of these studies, people who sat for prolonged periods of time had a higher risk of dying from all causes — even those who exercised regularly. The negative effects were even more pronounced in people who did little or no exercise.

The health hazards of not moving much are wide ranging, says Dr. Joanne Foody, who directs the Cardiovascular Wellness Center at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “While we often think of the dangers of inactivity in terms of worsening cardiovascular health, there are a myriad of negative effects,” she says. The current study documented higher rates of type 2 diabetes, cancer, and cancer-related deaths in very sedentary people. An unrelated study has linked more sitting and less activity with an increased risk of developing dementia.

Exactly how sitting a lot contributes to poor health isn’t clear. But some research suggests that it has harmful effects on sugar and fat metabolism, both of which affect a person’s risk of diabetes and heart disease, says Dr. I-Min Lee, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

Fear of an early death doesn’t usually motivate people to change their habits, but losing weight might be an incentive. You burn 30% more calories when you’re standing than when you’re sitting. It’s not a huge amount, but it adds up over time and contributes to weight control, says Dr. Lee.

The authors of the Annals study offered tips for sitting less, such as standing or moving around for one to three minutes every half hour while you’re at work. “There are lots of apps you can use on your phone or computer that will sound an alarm to remind you,” says Dr. Lee. Standing or exercising when watching TV — even just during commercials —is another popular tip, as is standing when talking on the phone. “The key is to make these things habits that you do without thinking about, like brushing your teeth,” says Dr. Lee.

For me, I hope that standing more will be habit-forming. But in the meantime, I think I’ll download an alarm app on my computer, which should help me get up more often than my dog does. I’m also considering creating a standing desk, as one of my colleagues has done.


  1. angela

    Sitting for long hours when you’re working in front of your computer is absolutely inevitable. But there are definitely ways to avoid sitting too much. Stand up and stretch whenever you can. Go get and drink some water and visit the rest room more often. Park your car farther from your office and take advantage of walking. Walk after eating your lunch. These are just few tips.

  2. Stephen

    I have always found it fascinating that, if you stand up 2 hours a day, where you would otherwise sit down, you will run a marathon a month. Calory wise.

  3. Skeptical

    This study is a compilation of many questionnaires and shows an apparent link between sedentary work and multiple serious disorders. The finding that significant exercise after or before work does not mollify this effect makes little intuitive sense and should be regarded with suspicion. I cant think of one good reason for it, except that some folks who are sedentary and know they are probably not doing the right thing for their bodies, lie about the exercise.

  4. bán cáđĩa

    Fantastic publish bán cáđĩa. I became checking out constantly this blog using this program . fascinated! Invaluable facts especially the final component 🙂 My spouse and i maintain similarly info a great deal. I used to be seeking this specified facts for a long period. Many thanks and also all the best ..

  5. James Manson

    As Syarief said, I also work a lot behind computer as a webmaster. After reading this great post I think I need to start working out a lot more. My backs are killing me, hope your advice will help me get rid of the back pain.

  6. Syarief Hidayat

    I also do a job that made me sit a lot. I mean, I spent a lot of time sitting in from of my computer. After reading this post, I will try to reduce it. Cause you know, I want to live longer, hoho.