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Why should I avoid sitting down all day?

Dr. David B. Agus, MD
Hematologist & Oncologist

Sitting around is actually hazardous to your health. In this video, cancer specialist and author Dr. David Agus explains why you need to keep moving to stay healthy.

Spending a long time sitting around can be hazardous to your longevity, even if you're active sometimes. Here's what you need to know.

The term "couch potato" is an amusing description of those people who almost never abandon their widescreen TVs or computer monitors for anything other than basic biological necessities. But even if you get to the gym for an occasional workout doesn't mean that you may not be a bit of a spud yourself. And it's no joke.

That's according to researchers at the American Cancer Society, who investigated the link between how much time people spend sitting around and their overall mortality. Looking over a 13-year history, the scientists found that the more time you stay planted on your rear can reduce the time you're destined to live on the planet.

This was more true for women than men. Women who reported more than six hours per day of sitting (outside of work) were 37 percent more likely to die during the 13-year study than those who sat fewer than three hours a day. Men who sat more than six hours a day (also outside of work) were 18 percent more likely to die than those who sat fewer than three hours per day. Interestingly, those who reported they were physically active also had troubling mortality rates if they were acting like human lounge chairs for six hours a day.

Let's say you don't exercise. Then you're really cutting years off your life. Women and men who sat more and were less physically active were 94 and 48 percent more likely to die during the 13-year study period, respectively.

The researchers believe that the long stretches of being sedentary negatively affect the metabolic processes in your body, endangering your cardiovascular system and cells. These results also tell us an important, inescapable fact: Fitness is a lifestyle, not an occasional fling.

You should avoid sitting down all day because research links prolonged sitting to obesity, blood pressure, diabetes and chronic pain. Here’s the kicker: If comparing sitting with smoking seems like a stretch, just like eliminating one cigarette a day isn’t going to erase the damage you’re doing by smoking the other 12 cigarettes—getting yourself to the gym for an hour a day isn’t going to reduce the negative effects of sitting the other nine hours. Active people who are routinely hitting the gym an hour a day, are at just as much risk of this so called “sitting disease” as the average couch potato.

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Even if we are active for a significant amount of time as in a morning run or mid-day exercise class, recent studies show that sitting for prolonged periods—12 or more hours per day—is associated with more storage of body fat, lower levels of insulin and increased risk of premature death, despite exercising. The message from these observations is that of course, daily exercise is important. Equally important is getting up from your chair every hour and moving around, doing some leg bends, stretching and taking a stroll to the water cooler and back. Your body was not meant to remain inactive for long periods of time.

A recent large meta-analysis (an aggregation of several medical studies) in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that prolonged sitting was associated with higher mortality from all causes, as well as increased incidence of cancer, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. This association between all-cause mortality and sedentary behavior is greatest among people who exercise the least. Interestingly, exercise cannot necessarily negate the detrimental impact of prolonged sitting, as another study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found the low or moderate levels of exercise failed to ameliorate the effect of sitting for long periods of time. Conclusion: Sit less, even if you exercise, because it may save your life!

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.