Why Sitting Too Long Can Kill You

Medically reviewed in January 2022

If you spend most of your time sitting—say, at the office all day, then lounging on the sofa all evening—can exercise make up for it? Not really, according to new Australian research.

A recent study followed more than 200,000 adults age 45 and older for three years. Those who sat 11 or more hours per day were 40 percent more likely to die than people who sat fewer than 4 hours a day.

It gets worse: Even if they exercised after 11 hours of sitting, the risks were the same.

"In people who do a similar amount of physical activity, those who sit less will have a lower risk of dying compared to those who sit more," says Hidde Van Der Ploeg, PhD, senior research fellow at the University of Sydney School of Public Health. Physical activity for at least 150 minutes per week, as recommended by the World Health Organization, remains the gold standard. That works out to about 21 minutes of exercise per day—the equivalent of a half-hour sitcom, minus the commercials.

If you're already doing that much (or more) exercise, that's great, but don't stop there. "What you do in the remaining approximately 15 hours of the waking day is crucial," Van Der Ploeg says. His advice is to look for opportunities to add more movement throughout your day.

"If you're sitting much of that time, replace some of it with standing, or even some more walking or other physical activities," Van Der Ploeg says. Turn household chores into mini-workouts.

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