Sitting, The Smoking of Our Generation

The average person sits for 9.5 hours a day. For many of you this number is probably much higher. You are most likely to be sitting as you are reading this. How much time did you spend on the derriere yesterday? Not just at your desk but also the time you spent sitting during your commute, eating food, watching television. Research is showing us that sitting is making us dumb, weak, sick, fat and eventually dead.

A study of Australian workers found that people who sit for prolonged periods (greater than six hours) are more likely to be overweight or obese. However it is still debated whether obese people sit more or sitting more makes people more obese. It does however double your risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. An Australian study in 2010 looked at 9000 people and found that those who sat to watch more than six hours of television a day lived an average of five years less. The researchers concluded that sitting for more than six hours a day is a lethal activity. A 2015 study found that even if you completed regular vigorous exercise your risk of disability doubled with every hour you spent sitting. So regardless of how much you may exercise, if you sit for long periods each day you are making yourself sick!

Sit for more than six hours + No Exercise = Very high risk

Sit for more than six hours + Exercise = Moderate risk

Sit for less than six hours + Exercise = Very low risk

This research has led to many health professionals claiming that ‘sitting has become the smoking of our generation’. We need to intervene now before the problem becomes any worse.

So how can we maximise our time moving and maintain productivity?


The key is to incorporate more low intensity intermittent movement into our day. The opposite of sitting isn’t standing, however. It’s moving. A 2015 study found that engaging in low intensity activities such as standing may not be enough to offset the health hazards of sitting for long periods of time. On the bright side, adding just two minutes of walking each hour to your routine might do the trick.

  1. Get Your 10 a Day. You can’t manage what you don’t measure. By simply using an activity tracker, which can be found on most smartphones, you are creating more consciousness around your sedentary behaviours and will be more accountable to making better decisions on a regular basis. By why 10,000 steps each day? Originally the 10,000 target was a marketing ploy by a Japan manufacture during the 1960s but studies now show it as a point where significant health benefits are gained, as it tends to equate to 30-60 minutes of daily activity.
  2. Walk to Work. In the 1990s, the Japanese government instructed corporations to conduct health screens of their employees. They looked at the commute of 6017 workers and found that for those who walked less than 10 minutes there was no difference in their blood pressure, for 11 to 20 minutes of walking the blood pressure was decreased by 12%, and walking for 21 or more minutes decreased the blood pressure by 29%.
  3. Walking Meetings. Imagine groups of executives walking around town, having their high-powered meetings. People would be less likely to nod off, that’s for sure. From a productivity perspective, exercise increases oxygen flow to the brain, which always increases mental activity and sharpness. Start with one meeting a week, maybe a one on one catch with a colleague can be a walk and talk rather than a sit down coffee. Another great strategy is to to stand when you are talking on the phone, this is a great way to bring LIIT into your working day.
  4.  An Inconvenient Desk. Since the introduction of computers and mobile phones, workplaces have become inundated with compensation claims for neck and back injuries. Many workplaces have turned to specialists to ensure their workstations enable perfect postural alignment. But this strategy hasn’t worked. What is needed is an inconvenient workplace – one that encourages movement, rather than restricting it, for example by having stairwells and not lifts between office floors, and long distances between the toilets and workstations will encourage more movement. If you have multiple computer screens have one to your left and one to your right and put your phone behind you. A sit/stand desk is a great addition but don’t forget the opposite of sitting isn’t standing it’s moving!



  1. Mummery, K. W., Schofield, G. M., Steele, R., Eakin, E. G., & Brown, W. J. (2005). Occupational sitting time and overweight and obesity in Australian workers. Am J Prev Med 29, 91-97, 29(2), 7–91.
  2. Dunstan, D., Barr, E., Healy, G., Salmon, J., Shaw, J., Balkau, B., … Owen, N. (2010). Television viewing time and mortality: The Australian diabetes, obesity and lifestyle study (AusDiab). , 121(3), 384–91
  3. Dunlop, D. D., Song, J., Arntson, E. K., Semanik, P. A., Lee, J., Chang, R. W., & Hootman, J. M. (2015). Sedentary time in US older adults associated with disability in activities of daily living independent of physical activity. Journal of Physical Activity and Health, 12(1), 93–101.
  4. Beddhu, S., Wei, G., Marcus, R. L., Chonchol, M., Greene, T., (2015). Light-intensity physical activities and mortality in the United States general population and CKD Subpopulation. Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, 2015 Jul 7;10(7):1145-53.
  5. Hayashi, T., Tsumura, K., Suematsu, C., Okada, K., Fujii, S., & Endo, G. (1999). Walking to work and the risk for hypertension in men: The Osaka health survey. Annals of Internal , 131(1), 21–6.

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