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Live Right, Live Well

Do You Sit Too Much?

A surprising new study suggests you may live a shorter life if you sit too much. Are you at risk?

Stiff joints, achy muscles, numb limbs -- all familiar side effects of too much time spent parked in a chair. But did you know that sitting too much may actually shorten your life as well? That's the conclusion of a surprising new study conducted by the American Cancer Society.

After tracking 123,000 people, researchers found that women who reported sitting more than six hours per day were 37 percent more likely to die prematurely than those who sat fewer than three hours a day -- even if they got regular exercise. Men were 18 percent more likely to die early.

When participants reported sitting for long hours without engaging in a regular exercise routine, the results were even worse: Women and men who sat for six hours a day and didn’t work out were, respectively, 94 and 48 percent more likely to die early compared with those who sat fewer hours and were very physically active.

"Being active is beneficial -- this we know from many years of research, not just from this study," says lead researcher Alpa V. Patel, who is an epidemiologist with the American Cancer Society. "But our study also showed that being active combined with sitting less was better." This may be because sitting has been shown to negatively affect cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure, leptin (the hormone that helps govern appetite) and other factors associated with obesity and cardiac disease.

So what do you do if you have a desk job or are otherwise stuck sitting in a chair for six or more hours per day? "For optimal health and longevity, adults should engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per week," says Patel. That averages out to a minimum of 20 minutes a day. "Additionally, this study suggests that reducing time spent sitting will add additional benefit. Our study showed that less than three hours a day [of sitting] had the lowest risk."

A few suggestions to get your daily dose of movement:

  • Set an alarm on your computer that will remind you to stand up or walk around for a few minutes once every hour.
  • Take a 20-minute midday stroll if you simply can’t get up every hour. It gets your blood flowing and counts toward your daily out-of-chair quota.
  • Work standing up. Lore has it that Thomas Jefferson and Ernest Hemingway, among others, used a raised desk so they could stand while working.
  • Skip interoffice phone and email. When you want to discuss something with a colleague at work, get up and walk to their desk instead.
  • Use your feet instead of sitting in a car if you have to run an outside errand that’s within walking distance.
  • Choose leisure activities that don't involve sitting: Go to a bowling alley instead of a movie theater, a dance class rather than a concert, or a museum as opposed to a spectator sports arena.

 

 


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