Sitting: A New Health Risk

December 8, 2010 No Comments by Scott Isaacs MD

We sit too much.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, we are in an epidemic of sitting.   Our parents and grandparents spent much less time sitting downphysical activity due to excessive sitting.  Our places of work, schools, homes and public areas have been designed in ways to enhance sitting and minimize movement and physical activity.  Nowadays, you rarely need to walk and almost never need to run.  Sitting has become the norm. than we do now.  We are not just sitting more…we are moving less.  Most of us live a lifestyle with severely limited

Humans are designed to move.  Our bodies have evolved over thousands of years to move and engage in physical labor throughout the day.  The change in human lifestyle from a physically demanding life to a sedentary lifestyle over the past few decades has been relatively new, occurring just recently on the time line of human existence.

10,000 years ago, before the development of civilization, humans walked or ran 12-14 miles every day.  And back then, humans rarely sat.

In 1970, 20% of Americans worked at desk jobs.  Today more than 60% spend our entire work day sitting.  During the past 20 years with computers, televisions and video games, most of us spend significant amounts of time in front of a screen.  TV watching time for the average American has quadrupled over the past 40 years.

This increase in sitting has had detrimental effects on all of us, leading to a whole host of health problems.  Research has focused onunderstanding the health benefits of physical activity and how to incorporate daily physical activity so that we can emulate our ancestors.  Experts currently recommend a minimum of 150 minutes of exercise every week to help reduce the risk of conditions like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and obesity.  However, for optimal health, I recommend a minimum of one hour of vigorous exercise every day.  It is really just a fraction of what our ancestors did.  They had to be on the move to find food, clothing and shelter.  They had to exercise to live.

Physicians refer to people who sit too much as “sedentary.”  However, you can look at it two ways.  There is either an excess of sitting behavior, or there is a lack of exercise.  Either way, in order to be truly healthy, you must sit less and exercise more.

Researchers have categorized “nonexercise behavior” as either sedentary (sitting or lying, expending very little energy) or light-intensity activity (standing, self-care activities or slow walking).  Research from the US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey shows that the average person spends only 3% of their awake time exercising.  One in four adults spends 70% of their time sitting and 30% doing light activities…with almost no time exercising.

Prolonged time sitting, known as “habitual sedentary behavior” is now considered a risk factor for obesity and related diseases.  It is clear that we need cut out this new bad habit.

For more information on the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, please visit

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