14 Reasons Sitting All Day Keeps You From Getting Fit

The science is clear – sitting all day makes you unfit — in fact, doing so leads to premature death. Oh, not swiftly. It takes time. But each hour sitting on your rear end brings you more swiftly to your demise. Here’s what to do about it.

Don't sit all day

ABOUT THREE months ago, I wrote about how sitting all day and night is a pretty good way to kill yourself early (to put it dramatically), but I bet that fanny is still spread across the cushion pretty non stop, so I’m going to take another crack at convincing you that it’s in your best interest to stand up.

(And I say this for my own ears as well.)

Last time, I described six ways sitting will kill you, and now I’m increasing the ante, sorta speak. Now, it’s going to be 14 ways that sitting will kill you!

Hyperbolic, you may think, but au contraire, there’s science to back the claims.

No way you can avoid lingering on the duff, you may think, but there is… you just have to get creative and consistent.

I’m very well aware that you may be a “knowledge worker”, and as such you gather and disseminate such knowledge squarely set upon your posterior, perhaps with head careening forward and shoulders covering your ears.

Such is a pretty apt description of myself with one important exception. Every hour a timer chimes, and with Pavlovian precision I get up and do something other than sit.

Sometimes I have a prescribed sequence of things to do when that timer chimes, or will wing it, but what I don’t do is continue to sit.

There are solidly researched, important reasons for this. Let’s begin with four reasons not to sit so much, or as the New York Times put it

This is your body on chairs”:

  1. Electrical activity in the muscles drops, leading to a cascade of harmful metabolic effects.
  2. Your calorie burning rate immediately plunges to about one per minute, a third of what it would be if you got up and walked.
  3. Insulin effectiveness drops within a single day, and the risk of developing type 2 diabetes rises.
  4. The risk of being obese goes up.

The enzymes responsible for breaking down lipids and triglycerides (in effect, vacuuming up fat out of the bloodstream) plunge, which in turn causes the levels of HDL (the “cholesterol) to fall.

How about a little entertainment on the topic? Watch AsapScience’s Are You Sitting Too Much?


In case you didn’t watch the video, know that Lifehacker adds about another nine unhappy consequences that sitting promotes, bringing our tally to a whopping 14!  I think it’s interesting that the perspective here is about what happens to your very own sitting self over various time frames (and excuse me if I repeat myself a bit).

Immediately After Sitting (5 thru 7)

Right after you sit down and are getting cozy, the electrical activity in your muscles slows down and your calorie-burning rate drops to one calorie per minute — about a third of your walking rate. If you sit for a full 24-hour period, you get to enjoy a 40 percent reduction in glucose uptake in insulin, which can eventually cause type 2 diabetes.

“What kind of nut case sits for 24 hours!?”, you ask.

Well, consider someone you may know – certainly not you – who gets up and spends about 10 minutes puttering around the house before getting in the car/bus/train to sit his/her way to work, where there’s a comfy chair awaiting a plump butt that rests nicely in it for about eight hours after which the car/bus/train seat carries our erstwhile knowledge worker home, where there’s a couch and TV, and after that, a bed.

So, how many hours of that 24 were either sitting or lying down?

After Two Weeks of Sitting for More Than Six Hours a Day (8 thru 10)

Within five days of changing to a sedentary lifestyle, you get more plasma triglycerides (fatty molecules), LDL cholesterol (aka bad cholesterol), and insulin resistance. (More is not good.) This means your muscles aren’t taking in fat and your blood sugar levels go up, putting you at risk for weight gain. After just two weeks your muscles start to atrophy and your maximum oxygen consumption drops. This makes a person a reluctant walker and stair climbing inconceivable.

Surprisingly, and damn unfair is that even if you were working out every day, the deterioration starts the second you stop moving.

After One Year of Sitting More Than Six Hours a Day  (11)

After a year, the longer-term effects of sitting can start to manifest subtly. According to a study published by Dr. Marc T. Hamilton and a few other PhD’s, you might start to experience weight gain and high cholesterol. Studies studying woman say they you can lose up to 1 percent of bone mass a year by sitting for over six hours a day.

After 10-20 Years of Sitting More Than Six Hours a Day  (12 thru 14)

Sitting for over six hours a day for a decade or two can cut away about seven quality adjusted life years (the kind you want). It increases your risk of dying of heart disease by 64% and your overall risk of prostate or breast cancer increases 30%.  (Yeah, both!)

OK, now you get the notion that I wasn’t being too hysterical when I ventured to say, “Sitting kills”. So, what to do?

First, you might get some baseline measure of where you’re at right now. I mean, just how many hours are you sitting or supine? How many steps a day do you take?

With a little observation, you can easily answer the first question, but the second requires a pedometer, or some smart wearable fitness device.

Lifehacker recommends the Omron Pedometer, or an iPhone or Android app.

Next, take action!

With that pedometer in hand, walk more. There’s always an opportunity to walk rather than drive, and to step up stairs rather than use an elevator.

And then there’s that every hour Pavlovian thing.

Here’s what you do:

When that chime chimes every hour, stand up. Now what? If you only have two minutes, do something vigorous. If you have 10 minutes, go take a fast walk around the block.

Since time seems to be a precious commodity during working hours, here are some short-on-time ideas:

  • Do 10 push-ups followed by 20 squats. Can’t do a push-up? Then push yourself away from the wall or bannister. Can’t do a full squat so your bottom touches your ankles? Then squat as low as you can go. Stick your butt out and just bend those knees.
  • Do 20 jumping jacks followed by 10 burpees. I know you can do the jumping jacks, even if they’re really shuffle jacks, but if the burpees are overwhelming, do the squats.
  • Do 10 yoga Sun Salutations, as demonstrated by the estimable Kino MacGregor below, whose form you are unlikely to duplicate, but don’t let that stop you from doing your version of it

Here’s a video demonstrating a burpee:

Note: As a sitting-interrupter, the burpee is about as good as you can get… just one minute’s worth will get your heart pumping, and those muscles bulging.

Here’s Kino MacGregor displaying her usual wow factor:


Note: Kino is showing you Surya Namaskara B, but given that the point of doing it to break up your sit time and stimulate your physiology, I recommend that you do not pause (in the “down dog” position) after one repetition but just keep on going without pause. Also, you can elect to jump both feet forward rather than one leg at a time if that suits you better.

OK, I’m almost done. Before I sign off, I’d like to leave you with a pic of proper sitting posture, cause no matter what you wind up doing, sitting is still going to consume most of your day.

So, if you absolutely just have to sit all day, and nothing you read here is going to get in your way, then sit this way (green, not red):

Seated Meditation Alignment

The above image comes from one of my articles on meditation, this one called How Meditation Posture and Intention Manifest Your Goals. As long as you’re sitting, you might as well get enlightened (among other things), so go take a look right here.

Ciao for now.


P.S. Do you do anything to break up long periods of sitting?  If so, tell us about it in the Comments below.

Last Updated on April 11, 2023 by Joe Garma

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Joe Garma

I help people live with more vitality and strength. I'm a big believer in sustainability, and am a bit nutty about optimizing my diet, supplements, hormones and exercise. To get exclusive Updates, tips and be on your way to a stronger, more youthful body, join my weekly Newsletter. You can also find me on LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram.

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