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Working with Computers: Sitting Down Can Kill You

Updated on August 9, 2013

The Health Hazards of Sitting Down too Much

Did you know that sitting down for long periods of time can significantly shorten your life, even if you exercise regularly? Not great news for those of us who spend hours hunched over a computer keyboard - whether by necessity or by choice. Studies indicate that those people who chronically sit are more likely to be overweight and suffer from heart problems.This is not good news for a large portion of the population, since many professions, even those that don't involve computers, require sitting for long periods of time.

The problem with sitting is that it's a sendentary behaviour, ie: it is an activity with a very low energy expenditure and not what humans were specifically designed for. In evolutionary terms, we developed as hunter/gatherers, meant to spend a great deal of time walking, running and stretching. However, just exercising more may not be the solution for those who spend long hours in the sitting position.

According to researcher Marc Hamilton, "sitting too much is not the same as exercising too little." That means that even if you exercise for an hour a day, if you sit too much you will still be at risk.The connection between sitting time and mortality is independent of physical activity levels. Surprising but the conclusions are based on credible research .


Sitting and Mortality: The Research

The researcher who first discovered this link is Dr Peter Katzmarzyk, who along with his colleagues at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, published a scientific paper in 2009, which investigated the connections between time spent sitting and mortality in a sample of more than 17,000 Canadians. According to the paper:

Individuals who sat the most were roughly 50% more likely to die during the follow-up period than individuals who sat the least, even after controlling for age, smoking, and physical activity levels.

Sitting Time and Mortality

Humans are not designed to spend long hours sitting in a chair
Humans are not designed to spend long hours sitting in a chair | Source

Why is it so?

It seems that the reduction of even very light weight 'natural' exercise, (standing up, walking slowly, moving your arms around), rather than what we normally think of as exercise, (the vigorous stuff) has a huge impact on our health. It's also possible that sitting promotes bad dietary habits, in that sedentary behaviour often leads to unconscious imbibing of snacks, drinks etc.

Perhaps the most important connection though, is that sitting for long periods leads to rapid and dramatic changes in skeletal muscle, which in turn results in "increased plasma triglycerides, LDL cholesterol and increased insulin resistance". - all of which is apparently very bad. (source

All this is problematic for a civilization in which sitting has become a cultural and professional expectation. There are hundreds of jobs which require sitting for long periods and in the evenings hoards of people are either sitting in front of the TV or at a computer.

Sitting Poll

How many hours a day do you sit?

See results

How Long is Too Much Sitting?

The general opinion seems to be that sitting six hours plus per day makes us 40% more likely to die within fifteen years than someone who sits less than three hours a day. People with sitting jobs have twice the rate of cardiovascular disease as people with standing jobs.


Obviously to sit less but for those whose job requires extensive sitting, try to take frequent breaks and stretch, jump or walk around and when you get home, although it may be hard, try not to blob for hours in front of the television. Every extra hour of TV watching equates to an 11% higher death risk. If you work on a computer, in addition to breaks there are also strategies you can employ to minimise skeletal problems, such as neck and back pain:

  • Position your chair close to the desk and have it pushed right in to avoid either stooping forward or leaning back too far
  • Use a wrist pad to minimise fatigue
  • Change position frequently [a swivel chair makes this easier]
  • Make sure your work area has enough space so you are not too cramped

The links at right provide more extensive health and safety tips and information to help you-->


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