September 22, 2015 . Workplace

The Truth About Sitting: Hype vs Fact


Over the past year or so, virtually every major media outlet has popularized findings from health researchers on the hazards of prolonged sitting.

  • “Is Sitting a Lethal Activity?”

  • “Why Your Chair Might Be Killing You”

  • “Are You Sitting Down? It’s Slowly Killing You”

  • “Sitting All Day Might Shorten Your Life - Why, and What To Do About It”

  • “Is Sitting the New Smoking? A Workday of Inactivity Can Offset Any Benefits of Exercise”

  • “Health Officials Say Americans Are Sitting Themselves to Death”

But how can something as simple as our posture have such dramatic impacts on our health? And how do we know we are sitting more than ever before? What has changed?

Health researchers have suggested that compared to past lifestyles, “contemporary changes in transport, occupations, domestic tasks and leisure activities have had negative effects on daily energy expenditure” (British Journal of Sports Medicine, 2009).

Consider the following figures:

  • We average 9.3 sedentary hours per day (Diabetes Care 2007). This is longer than most people sleep each night (Bureau of Labor & Statistics 2013).

  • We now watch around 5.5 hours of video content per day (eMarketer 2015). About 4 of these hours are spent in front of the television.

  • Americans walk less than other industrialized countries. According to a 2010 study using data from over 2,000 individuals, American adults average just over 5,000 steps per day-- compared to 9,685 by Australian, 8,900 by Swiss and 7,575 by Japanese adults in similar studies (ACSM 2010).

  • Few of us are getting the recommended amount of exercise. The Center for Disease Control reports that only 1 in 5 Americans are getting the recommended amount of weekly exercise, which could be achieved with just 30 minutes of brisk walking five days a week (CDC 2014).

  • Our work is more sedentary. In the early 1960’s, nearly 50% of private industry jobs required at least moderate physical activity (PLOS 2011). Today over 80% of Americans work in office environments.

With long daily commutes, screen-based entertainment, sedentary offices and little time spent exercising, it seems that we spend more time inactive than active. Conveniences such as these lead us to burn fewer calories throughout the day, in turn contributing to weight gain, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Most of us would agree, our culture seems to be driving to more sedentary behaviours. So how can we disrupt the tendency toward sitting and inactivity, especially at work?

Stay tuned for the next post in our series, titled “The Case Against Sitting” where we unpack the research that explains what happens to our bodies when we sit for hours at a time.


Too Much Sitting: A Novel and Important Predictor of Chronic Disease Risk? British Journal of Sports Medicine 2009

Objectively Measured Light-Intensity Physical Activity Is Independently Associated With 2-h Plasma Glucose Diabetes Care 2007

Average Sleep Times Per Day by Age and Sex, American Time Use Survey, Bureau of Labor and Statistics 2013

US Adults Spend 5.5 Hours with Video Content Each Day eMarketer, 2015

Pedometer Measured Physical Activity and Health Behaviors in United States Adults Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 2010

Facts About Physical Activity Center for Disease Control (CDC), 2014

Trends in Five Decades in US Occupation-Related Physical Activity and their Associations with Obesity PLOS One, 2011

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