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Is Sitting Bad for Your Health and Waistline? What the Surprising Research Reveals

I Want You to Get Up and MOVE!

As you read this, you’re probably sitting -- a motion done by all of us countless times a day. We sit to eat, to work, to relax, to conversate, to socialize … to engage in infinite moments of our lives.

Yet as research would have it, this very simple and often necessary act could be insidiously harming your health in a surprising number of ways.

"Chair time is an insidious hazard because people haven't been told it's a hazard," Marc Hamilton, Ph.D., a professor of biomedical sciences at the University of Missouri in Columbia, told Ivanhoe Broadcast News.

According to Hamilton, numerous studies show rates of heart disease, diabetes and obesity are doubled and even tripled in people who sit a lot. Part of the problem is sitting stops the circulation of lipase, an enzyme that absorbs fats. So instead of being absorbed by your muscles, when you’re sitting fat recirculates in your bloodstream where it may end up stored as body fat, clogging arteries or contributing to disease.

In fact, simply standing up as opposed to sitting engages muscles and helps your body process fat and cholesterol in a positive way, regardless of the amount of exercise you do.

Sitting Less May be Just as Important as Regular Exercise

We all know we’re supposed to get regular exercise to stay healthy. What you may not know is that spending all the time you’re not exercising in a sitting position may totally overwhelm the benefits of exercise.

In other words, research by Hamilton and others found sitting not only has a negative effect on fat and cholesterol metabolism, but also stimulates disease-promoting processes. What’s more, exercising, even for an hour a day, does not reverse this effect.

"The enzymes in blood vessels of muscles responsible for 'fat burning' are shut off within hours of not standing," Hamilton said on "Standing and moving lightly will re-engage the enzymes, but since people are awake 16 hours a day, it stands to reason that when people sit much of that time they are losing the opportunity for optimal metabolism throughout the day."

This may be one reason why sitting can cause you to gain weight. A study in the International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders found those who had high daily levels of sitting (7.4 hours or more) were significantly more likely to be overweight or obese than those who reported low daily sitting levels (less than 4.7 hours a day).

A study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine even found that the longer a man sits at a desk at work, the greater his chances are of being overweight. Sitting for long hours also puts you at risk of back pain, particularly if you sit with poor posture, leg cramps, tense muscles and, of course, boredom.

Tips for Sitting Less and Getting Healthy

Standing up requires your muscles to work to support your weight and hold you upright, to the extent that it can double your metabolic rate. In fact, the average person can burn 60 extra calories each hour just by standing instead of sitting. Over the course of a day, this can add up to a lot of beneficial health effects.

The good news is you’ve already accomplished the first step to sitting less, which is realizing that you probably should. Next, take the opportunity to stand rather than sit as often as you can. Stand while watching your kids play at the park, stand while you talk on the phone or watch TV, etc.

If you want to take standing one step further, you can also incorporate some simple yet highly beneficial stretches into your daily routine. (An internet search should result in many options for a stretching routine.  What works for one may not work for another, so I defer to your search results) 

Disclaimer: Information provided is based on our experience, training, and judgment in interpreting the practical application and intent of official guidance and regulations.  It does not represent the official position of any government agency or their representative.