Inactivity or Sitting? Is sitting all day really killing you or is it just all hype?

22 Mar 2015


If you have a Facebook account, follow any health posts or health gurus then you have probably read headlines like “Is sitting the new smoking?”, “Why sitting is killing you?” or possibly “Is sitting to blame for all of the worlds problems?”. Ok that last one I just made up but with all of these headlines you could be convinced to never sit again and spend the rest of your days standing up.


The short answer is, yes, sitting for too long is not great for you. But neither is standing or standing on your head or hopping or anything else for that matter. But I believe it inactivity that is the real issue. Our modern lives mean that we have to sit for some periods of time so we can’t totally avoid it. Limiting the amount we sit for extended periods will definitely have health benefits. 


A lot of these articles are pointing to standing as being the cure all for all of the sitting based health problems. Through my research it is interesting to find that there is also lots of information on how dangerous standing all day can be for you and most of the health problems are the same such as heart disease, lower back pain and poor circulation. There are regulations on how long some one should stand for under work cover and for many jobs sitting was introduced to reduce the health effects of standing all day. Sounds familiar right, although topsy turvy.


Getting health benefits from standing all day implies that you will be standing in a correct posture, shoulders back and down, hips square, eyes at the level of the monitor. Who can sit up straight for extended periods let alone stand up straight?? I can see overused hip muscles and aching lower backs from people standing with more weight on one leg or hunching over their desks.


In this article I’ll try to get past the sensational headlines and get to the real issues behind the hype. Let’s have a look.


Here are the facts at this point in time…

If you have ever worked in an office environment then you'll be no stranger to posture related pain or repetitive strain. These are well documented and we have a whole system setup called Workcover that spends millions of dollars a year on treatment for these issues. But you may not realise that sitting all day can cause a whole bunch more problems.


Some of these problems include:


  • Reduced metabolism - movement increases your metabolism.

  • Higher risk of cardio-vascular disease

  • Musculoskeletal pain especially neck, shoulder and lower back pain.

  • Headaches/migraines

  • Eye problems - looking at the same distance all day i.e.: your computer monitor.

  • Dehydration

  • reduced oxygen intake - lack of concentration

  • the list goes on.



Basically sitting for extended periods of time without moving is being touted as the next smoking. For me this is a bit of a stretch. Smoking causes major health problems in nearly every organ and generally significantly reduces your life expectancy. Not only this there is the whole passive smoking issue. If you decide to smoke in a public place then you are also polluting other people's environment - causing other people health issues. I haven't seen any articles written on passive sitting yet but maybe that will be the next craze.


So how long do you sit per day? Or maybe the question should be how long don't you sit for and work backwards. Most people sleep for 8 hours which is  part of our human needs so that leaves 16 hours to play with. If you work for 8 hours then you probably sit for close to 8 hours. Let's be generous and say you are up and about, going out for lunch, going to the toilet etc for 1 hour. That's 7 hours. So what are you doing for the rest of that time? Catching public transport to work or  driving. Sitting down to eat dinner. Watching TV. Working more from home (laptop into the wee hours)


Lets have a look at these tables below to get an idea of your daily activity vs inactivity. Which one looks like you?


Mostly inactive - very inactive




Somewhat more active - walks the dog and walks to public transport.



Very active - goes to the gym, walks to public transport and walks the dog