Do You Have the Sitting Disease? Here's What to Do

When you come home from work do this instead heading for the couch.

View of man sitting back in a comfortable chair, arms behind his head looking out of the window in his bedroom

Do you come home from work, sink into the couch -- and stay there? Here’s a reason to get on your feet: A study of more than 82,000 men found that sitting for more than five hours a day during non-working hours increased the risk of heart failure, even among those who exercised.

This research is the first to link excessive time on your butt with heart failure -- a condition when the heart is too weak to pump enough blood to the body, causing symptoms like shortness of breath and fatigue. But it builds on similar findings. In 2012, we wrote about some of the reasons sitting is bad for your health (yes, even if you exercise), including increased risk of cardiovascular disease and premature death.

The study is an important reminder that it’s not enough to work out a few times a week. You have to exercise regularly and sit less. “Regardless of how much they exercised, the people in the study who were most sedentary had a 34% higher rate of heart failure,” explains Darria Long Gillespie, MD, a physician in the Emory University Hospital Emergency Department and Sharecare’s chief doctor. “Your body just cannot compensate for being that sedentary.”

So, what to do, if, like millions of Americans, you spend a whole lot of time parked in a chair or on the sofa? These expert tips can help protect your health from “the sitting disease.”

  1. Just stand up more often, says orthopedic surgeon Vonda Wright, MD. Sure, getting some exercise every hour is better -- but simply standing up throughout the day can help. Dr. Wright explains why in this video.
  2. Speaking of getting exercise throughout the day, keep some light hand weights at your desk or next to your couch. It only takes a minute to do a couple sets of biceps curls. Try some easy shoulder exercises, too.

Medically reviewed in December 2019.

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