McCombs Sport Performance & Fitness

"Engineering a healthier lifestyle through personal training"


Sitting is the New Smoking

Posted on August 19, 2016 at 5:05 PM

Purdue University

Sitting Kills…

A brief overview of sedentary lifestyle behaviors and their health outcomes



McCombs, Brandon W.



Sedentary behavior and leisure time sitting have increased over the last few decades. As a result negative health outcomes such as hypertension, obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases have exponentially increased. Sedentary activities consist of, but not limited to, commuting to and from work, watching TV, reading, and sitting at work. Over the last 50 or so odd years the transition from manual labor to a more occupational sitting has led to increased sedentary behavior. This coupled with increased home and leisure time activity due to technological advances, such as TV and computer usage, has drastically increased time spent sitting for adults inside and outside of the workplace. Data has been collected and used for research over several decades to combat this growing issue of poor health amongst adults. Previous research has shown a direct correlation between sedentary behavior and obesity along with other negative health concerns. With these results a need to increase awareness on the subject has risen with proactive solutions being introduced in today’s social institutions.

Research Design & Methods

Data was commonly collected through in-home interviews, questionnaires, surveys sent through the mail, and other larger databases. These surveys and questionnaires consisted of breaking populations among their gender demographics and anthropometric measurements. Such as age, sex, race, employment status, highest educational level completed, and body waist circumferences.

Sedentary Adults Through these data collection methods, a breakdown into visible results occurs. Focusing on the inactive population of the research, there are several results and takeaways from these surveys performed. It should be noted that many inactive adults were excluded from these surveys if they were missing information or had a family history of diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and/or hypertension.

Physiologically, consuming more food stores and prolonged sitting time leads to a negative energy balance thus, over time developing into unhealthy weight gain. According to Thorp et al sitting time was shown to be more consistently associated with other metabolic biomarkers (8). For example once an individual is obese the likelihood of them obtaining high blood pressure, diabetes, and/or cardiovascular diseases increases. It can easily be seen there are several negative connotations to an inactive lifestyle at the work place and home.

The research on the inactive population creates an increasingly threatening issue to the general populace. It becomes necessary to thus look into the research and results for the active population and see if the same health concerns plaguing the inactive population occur in those that are active.

Nonsedentary Adults Those reported engaging in more moderate physical activity and currently being employed were associated with significantly lower odds of being obese and/or having hypertension (2). Although there is good evidence that higher levels or moderate-to vigorous activity lead to substantial health benefits, there is increasing interest in identifying the health risks associated with sedentary behaviors (5). The active participants of this research therefore live overall healthy lives with low negative health risks.


There are many takeaways from comparing both the active and inactive populations of the research. First, mortality rates increased as daily sitting time increased from almost none of the time to almost all of the time as shown in the Katzmarzyk study. However, even with physically active individuals there was a strong relationship between sitting and risk of mortality (5). Compared to participants that spend time sitting 1-2 hours a day and participants that who reported sitting for more than 4 hours per day had a higher odds of being obese, having diabetes and/or hypertension (2). Along with daily sitting time body mass index (BMI) increased (2,5,6,8). Such attributes is thought to be, in part, due to a reduction in energy expenditure.

Thus, the active population of the research has very few of the health concerns that the inactive population has.

The relative strengths and weaknesses of the research performed needs to be taken into account for when discussing the validity of the results. In some studies only BMI as an indicator of obesity was available, whereas waist circumference has been shown to be a stronger predictor of obesity and other health related conditions. Other limitations found that surveys did not distinguish between occupational sitting, leisure time sitting, and total time sitting. Other studies had shown a lack of sample size and inability to screen for potential preexisting diseases during the initial consultations. Although that misreporting of data collected from self-reporting measures such as time spend sitting, physical activity, and all other demographics including height and weight studies still found similar characteristics across most studies regarding sedentary behavior and physical activity. In contrast, studies also reported having a larger sample size population and were clinically free of diagnosed diabetes or cardiovascular diseases (4,7). Despite the limitations discussed, the results of the research are accurate enough to necessitate action into finding a resolution for this growing issue.




Due to the data directly showing a correlation between sedentary lifestyle and increased negative health concerns, public awareness and healthy solutions need to be developed. Current public health activity focuses on accumulating adequate levels of moderate and vigorous physical activity. For example, the most recent recommendations from the American Heart Association and the American College of Sports Medicine call for a minimum of 30 min of moderate-intensity 5 days/wk or 20 min of vigorous-intensity physical activity 3 days/wk (5). Although there are currently no guidelines for sitting time duration, consulting a physician or other fitness professional is highly suggested for those combating poor health and the obesity epidemic. Another notion to raise awareness on this topic, regardless of physical activity levels, public health messages should include being physically active and reducing time spent sitting. Intervention strategies as simple as encouraging individuals to stand up and walk around more while at work or watching television have found to be beneficial. Likewise, experiments such as the Alkhajah et al study that focuses on office-based workers have tested the efficacy of sit-stand workstations to limit prolonged periods of sitting in the workplace. Though the sit-stand workstations can reduce sitting time, there are still many limitations as to whether this can be implemented in the workplace. Factors including the workplace layout and the overall interest of participants’ competence of the health impact of prolonged sitting are still confounding. This current research into the effects of a sedentary lifestyle should call for a need for continued research to be done in the future.






Alkhajah TA, Reeves MM, Eakin EG, Winkler EAH, Owen N, Healy GN. Sit-Stand Workstations A Pilot Intervention to Reduce Office Sitting Time. Amer J Prev Med 2012; 43(3):298-303

de Heer HD, Wilkinson AV, Strong LL, Bondy ML, Koehly LM. Sitting Time and Health Outcomes Among Mexican Origin Adults: Obesity as a Mediator. BMC Public Health 2012; 12:896

Ford ES, Kohl III HW, Mokdad AH, Ajani UA. Sedentary Behavior, physical activity, and the metabolic syndrome among U.S. adults. Obes Res 2005;13:608-614

Genevieve NH, Dunstand DW, Salmon J, Shaw JE, Zimmet PZ, Owen N. Television Time and Continuous Metabolic Risk in Physically Active Adults. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. 2008;40(4):639-645

Katzmarzyk PT, Church TS, Craig CL, Bouchard C. Sitting Time and Mortality from All Causes, Cardiovascular Disease, and Cancer. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 2009; 41(5):998-1005

Leon-Munoz LM, Martinez-Gomez D, Balboa-Castillo T, Lopez-Garcia E, Guallar-Castillon P, Rodriguez-Artalejo F. Continued Sedentariness, Change in Sitting Time, and Mortality in Older Adults. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 2013; 45(8):1501-1507

Patel AV, Bernstein L, Deka A, Feigelson HS, Campbell PT, Gapstur SM, Colditz GA, Thun MJ. Leisure time spent sitting in relation to total mortality in a prospective cohort of US adults. American Jornal of Epidemiology 2010;172(4):419-429

Thorp AA, Healy GN, Owen N, Salmon J, Ball K, Shaw JE, Zimmet PZ, Dunstan DW. Deleterious Associations of Sitting Time and Television Viewing Time with Cardiometabolic Risk Biomarkers. Diatetes Care 2010; 33: 327-334



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