Are you an Active Couch Potato?

By Sharon Niv, Ph.D.

New research suggests that sitting can be as bad for you as smoking, even if you’re a relatively active individual. A 2012 study in the Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity found that on average, regardless of people’s physical fitness and activity levels, they sat an average of 64 hours a week sitting. That’s between 9-10 hours a day.


Whether or not they exercised the recommended 3.5 hours a week, it didn’t seem to make a difference for reducing the number of hours spent sitting. This may not be surprising when we consider that the majority of us work office jobs, requiring us to sit before a computer for the majority of our days. If we’re lucky, we don’t spend an additional period sitting in the car on our commute, and some of us aren’t very lucky. What may be surprising, however, is that some studies have found that people are actually 30% less active outside of their exercise routine on the days that they’ve hit the gym, perhaps because they feel like they’ve ‘put in their time’ on the fitness front.


Unfortunately, an emerging body of research suggests that sitting for a majority of the day increases our risk of heart disease and death, which led Travis Sanders, a Ph.D. student and certified exercise physiologist at Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario to suggest that a sitting lifestyle is ‘a bit like smoking. Smoking is bad for you even if you get lots of exercise. So is sitting too much.’


Our bodies aren’t designed for sitting at length, but rather for hunting and gathering – being continuously on the go. Dr. Marc Hamilton, a professor of physiology at Pennington Biomedical Research Center, says that extended sitting causes the body to shut down on the metabolic level, with changes in blood sugar and fat burning, which can increase risk for diabetes and heart disease. A study in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that men who sit for 6 or more hours a day have an 18% increased risk of dying from heart disease and 7.8% increased risk of dying from diabetes than someone who sits only 3 hours a day.


So what can be done about this frightening information? Move more! Find the right Fitness device for you, and use it to motivate you to move throughout the day. Get a standing desk. Have walking meetings. Walk on your lunch break. Take frequent breaks to get some water. As more awareness increases and more technological advances allow us to monitor our experience, the likelihood of raising our activity levels improves.

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