Is sitting too much a health hazard?

March 23, 2015 ,

Do you spend most of your waking hours sitting?  The sobering answer is that the vast majority of us spend more time sitting than we do sleeping!

It is safe to say that sitting long hours is the new norm.  Many of us have sedentary jobs; we sit commuting, we sit to eat and we sit to relax.

However, emerging research may help us re-think our sitting routine by revealing that even if we exercise regularly, sitting for long periods raises the risk for heart disease, diabetes, cancer and premature death (Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 2014).  Sitting may be more hazardous to our health than we thought!

What’s the Good News?

By adding extra movement throughout the day, we can reverse negative health effects of sitting.  A 2014 University of Alberta study of almost 5,000 people, found that taking more than 10 activity breaks a day was associated with a lower waist circumference and lower levels of triglycerides, blood pressure, blood sugar, and higher “good” cholesterol.

Our economy would also benefit if we spent less time sitting. In fact, a recent report by the Conference Board of Canada and ParticipAction found that sitting less would reduce Canada’s health care costs by $2.6 billion and boost the economy by an estimated $7.5 billion over the next 25 years.  Added bonus, if employers encouraged their employees to sit less this would boosts productivity by reducing absenteeism and disability.

Intermittent Standing Works!

It is estimated that we burn an extra 50 calories per hour when standing, compared to sitting. This might not sound like a lot, but if we stand intermittently for a total of an extra hour a day, this could amount to a five pound weight loss over one year along with improvements to your health and longevity.  On the other hand, sitting for an extra hour each day, like watching a new TV show, could mean a five pound weight gain over one year.

Ideas for Breaking up Sitting:

  • Put your garbage or printer further away from your desk
  • Set a reminder to stand up and stretch after 1 hour sitting
  • Stand up when speaking on the telephone
  • Walk to colleagues’ desk instead of phoning or e-mailing
  • Take the stairs whenever possible
  • Schedule standing meetings – they are often shorter and more efficient too
  • Park further away to get in extra steps
  • Do more housework (yard work, vacuuming etc.)
  • Walk around during commercial breaks

Bottom Line:

Sitting is all too common in our Western culture.  It takes a conscious effort to change our environment and habits to reduce the amount of time we spend sitting.  Start by incorporating one or two small changes into your daily routine to improve your health!

Healthy Meal Planner


Andrea D'Ambrosio
Andrea is a Registered Dietitian and owner of Dietetic Directions, a nutritional counselling and education company. Andrea's mission is to inspire clients through motivation and guidance to achieve life-long health behaviour changes. She has taken continuing education in the areas of Food Allergy and Food Hypersensitivity, Health Research Literacy, Motivational Interviewing & Coaching for Behaviour Change.

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