Research indicates sedentary behavior has adverse health effects

Research continues to show connections between a sedentary lifestyle and its impact on health. Dr. Keith Diaz, a certified exercise physiologist and assistant professor of behavioral medicine at Columbia University Medical Center, was the lead researcher for one of the most recent studies. The findings further confirm just how bad sitting for extended periods of time can be. “There’s enough evidence that it’s time to take action,” Diaz said.

Diaz’s study, created with assistance from research partners and published in Annals of Internal Medicine, documents the effects of two types of sedentary behavior: people who sit for too long all at once, and people who accumulate too much time in a chair over the course of the day.

The study examined nearly 8,000 adults age 45 and older and looked at four years of their sitting habits. Diaz and his colleagues looked at data from specialized fitness trackers to determine how often study subjects got up from their chairs. Those who sat for more than the recommended time were at a higher risk of mortality than their peers who sat for less than the recommended amount. Many studies had previously suggested an accumulation of hours spent sitting led to adverse health effects. Diaz’s study is the first to show that even those who don’t spend all day sitting, but do sit for large chunks at a time — say two hours at once — are also at an increased risk. In fact, adults who sit for one to two hours at a time have a higher risk than those who spread out their sitting time.

Research shows that 11 ½ hours of sitting in a day increases the risk of mortality. More than half of those studied by Diaz sat for longer than the recommended time.

“The takeaway is the recognition that sitting can be a harmful behavior, even for people who are active,” Diaz said. “You can’t work out in the morning and then just sit down for 10 hours.”

Fortunately, the solution to inactivity is activity. Diaz recommends getting out of your chair every 30 minutes and walking around. There’s scientific debate about what the right amount of activity is. Diaz said finding out how much activity is needed to fight against the effects of sitting too long is his next research project.

Diaz cautions that not all sitting is bad all the time. As an example, he said that an elderly person who sits down to work on a puzzle or otherwise engage their brain gets the cognitive boost from their activity. People need to sit. But there’s no reason to not move around regularly, too, and there’s no risk associated with leaving your seat every 30 minutes. It might be time for you to take a stand, too.

Diaz acknowledges it’s tough to stand up and walk around as much as recommended. Here are five small ways you can work to purposefully incorporate more activity into your daily life:


  • Use a small water glass instead of a large one. It will force you to make more trips to keep it filled.
  • Walk to a coworker’s office to have a conversation with them instead of just sending off another email.
  • When you receive a phone call, get up and walk while you talk.
  • Send your documents to the printer on the other side of your office building.
  • Stand up during a conference call or other times when you aren’t required to sit at a computer.