The Dangers of Sitting

I saw this chart last spring and it spooked me, and it has lingered in my mind ever since:

A disturbing new Australian study backs up the chart:

Prolonged sitting is considered detrimental to health, but evidence regarding the independent relationship of total sitting time with all-cause mortality is limited. This study aimed to determine the independent relationship of sitting time with all-cause mortality.

… We linked prospective questionnaire data from 222 497 individuals 45 years or older … to mortality data …

During 621 695 person-years of follow-up …, 5405 deaths were registered…. The association between sitting and all-cause mortality appeared consistent across the sexes, age groups, body mass index categories, and physical activity levels and across healthy participants compared with participants with preexisting cardiovascular disease or diabetes mellitus.

Conclusions Prolonged sitting is a risk factor for all-cause mortality, independent of physical activity. Public health programs should focus on reducing sitting time in addition to increasing physical activity levels.

Greg Laden drives home the most challenging implication of the data:

I know what you are thinking: “I go to the gym for five hours a day so that fixes that problem.” Sorry, but no. Apparently (and this is not fully demonstrated, so this is something of a guess) it’s the sitting that hurts you, independently of the lack of exercise. Yes, those several hours a week of exercise helps you and makes you healthier, but the sitting itself, if we’ve got this right, is a bad thing, with negative effects, and if you do too much off that every day you’ll die sooner than otherwise.


Yeah, I’m going to die of sitting.


Your Thoughts?

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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • Dunc

    I wonder if I can sue my employer?

  • baal

    I have my car seat at the open angle but can’t get my desk chair to do the same.

  • OverlappingMagisteria

    On the bright side, the chart just gave me justification for my slouching. It’s healthy!

    My legs tend to be very antsy so even when siting, I’m constantly twitching them to tapping my heel up and down, almost spastically. Hopefully that does me at least a little bit of good.

  • Kevin Alexander

    Gargle stand up writing desk. The one I made for my computer also has cheap hydraulic step pedals I found at a yard sale so I can work my legs while I work my keyboard.

    I realized while riding my bike that my brain works best when my heart is pumping. Used to think it was because of the extra blood but I have recently read that there is some neurotransmitter involved as well.

  • Alexa

    This sounds like bad science reporting to me… I need to scamper off to read some of the studies cited, because I don’t believe that sitting itself is the cause of disease/death. It seems obvious to point out that already-sick and obese people will choose to sit more, and that people who sit more are probably already eating poorly and not exercising correctly or enough, but sadly this kind of research doesn’t always control for such factors. Will report back later!

  • Alexa

    Here we go!
    From “Too much sitting: a novel and important predictor of chronic disease risk?”
    “While the metabolic and health consequences of actual shifts in sedentary time relative to LIPA and MVPA are currently unknown, new evidence now suggests that such challenges need to be addressed.”

    From “Energy expenditure of nonexercise activity”
    “We found recently that changes in nonexercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) mediate resistance to weight gain with overfeeding in sedentary adults. A potentially important, yet seldom investigated, component of NEAT is the energy expenditure of fidgeting-like activities.”
    So, the more you move, the more calories you burn. Incidentally, this is the only primary research article cited.

    From “Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis”
    “Obese individuals appear to exhibit an innate tendency to be seated for 2.5 hours per day more than sedentary lean counterparts. If obese individuals were to adopt the lean “NEAT-o-type,” they could potentially expend an additional 350 kcal per day. Obesity was rare a century ago and the human genotype has not changed over that time. Thus, the obesity epidemic may reflect the emergence of a chair-enticing environment to which those with an innate tendency to sit, did so, and became obese. To reverse obesity, we need to develop individual strategies to promote standing and ambulating time by 2.5 hours per day and also re-engineer our work, school, and home environments to render active living the option of choice.”

    From “Role of Low Energy Expenditure and Sitting in Obesity, Metabolic Syndrome, Type 2 Diabetes, and Cardiovascular Disease”
    “There is now a need for studies to differentiate between the potentially unique molecular, physiologic, and clinical effects of too much sitting (inactivity physiology) separate from the responses caused by structured exercise (exercise physiology).”
    In other words: There aren’t any. The review does point to a few studies that could be interesting, though.

    Well, I was right. Bad science reporting as usual. Sitting isn’t going to kill you. Sitting is, at best, a proxy for predicting obesity and illness, which are going to kill you. The studies cited are reviews, not research, and they don’t account for the obvious confounding variables I listed earlier.

    (Disclaimer: I say this all as a fitness professional with a very strong personal interest in people believing that sitting still will kill them.)

    • outeast


  • mikespeir

    Nonsense! 100% of people who sit die! It’s a killer for sure!

    • GenghisFaun

      You just made me chortle in my cubicle, which is situated in the middle of a very quiet office. Well played, sir!

  • Ma Nonny

    I have a bit of a bone to pick with the notion that it’s the obesity that is killing people (but, I am not well-versed enough to evaluate the sitting effect – I have heard this correlation before, but I haven’t seen conclusive evidence of the cause).

    Healthy habits improve health indicators, but obesity is usually a symptom of a disease if it is linked to a disease at all (remember kids, correlation != causation). If you exercise, etc., then BMI is almost negligible. See:

    So, please stop blaming fat people for death!

    Also, remember, life is 100% fatal.

  • savoy47

    I do a form of low impact aerobics called Standing.

  • WMDKitty

    Wait, what about people in wheelchairs? Are we just plain fucked, or is there some way to combat this from a sitting position?

  • Ysanne

    I know a number of people who managed to break bones, dislocate joints and tear their meniscus just by trying to stand up from a sitting position. (Including myself.) So leaving the sitting position is an extremely risky thing to do as well.
    Possibly the best solution is to lie down and die through a sheer act of will, thereby reliably preventing any future health problems.

  • Bret

    This just in: reading these very words on your computer screen will give you cancer. Why are you still reading? Good lord, stop, for the sake of your friends and family, quit it, before it’s too late!

  • Francisco Bacopa

    I wonder if the Greeks and Romans were already onto this. They often ate reclining on their sides with with their weight resting on their hips and elbows. This meant they ate slower as they used only one hand.

  • John Morales

    Well, I reckon that were I wheelchair-bound, I’d smile faintly when reading this.

  • Brianne Bilyeu

    *smiles* Whether the cause and effect of sitting and harm is true, I love the poster and am going to put it on my wall at work. It will make for a great conversation piece.

  • A Hermit

    A standing desk can make a big difference…I got one of these recently….

    The adjustable height is great; I can sit when I feel like it (like now, I’m sitting drinking coffee and reading blogs…) or stand up…which I find I do when I’m really focused on work.

  • Jeremy

    Hmm. Eight hours at work, 6-8 more hours reading, Madden, blogging and reading sites until bed with more of the latter activities on the weekend, with some breaks to go get food. I’m freakin’ doomed.

  • ildi

    Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue.

  • kdan59

    If sitting is deadly, then why has longevity increased significantly since the good old days when everyone stood up more?

  • WMDKitty

    @kdan59 — Better nutrition, better medical care, better understanding of how the body works…

  • lcaution

    Why do they always learn these things when it’s way too late for you? Like saying childhood exposure to sun, especially one or two sunburns causes irreversible harm? And you discover this at age 30 having been raised by parents who never let a sunny day go unused. Bah, humbug.