Sitting is a common body posture. When people work, socialize, study, or travel, they often do so in a seated position.
However, that doesn’t mean that sitting and other sedentary behaviors are harmless. Over half of the average person’s day is spent sitting, doing activities such as driving, working at a desk, or watching television.
In fact, the typical office worker may spend up to a whopping 15 hours per day sitting. On the other hand, agricultural workers only sit for about 3 hours a day (1Trusted Source, 2Trusted Source).
Your everyday non-exercise activities, such as standing, walking, and even fidgeting, still burn calories.
This energy expenditure is known as non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT), the lack of which is an important risk factor for weight gain (3Trusted Source).
Sedentary behavior, including sitting and lying down, involves very little energy expenditure. It severely limits the calories you burn through NEAT.
To put this into perspective, studies report that agricultural workers can burn up to 1,000 more calories per day than people working desk jobs (4Trusted Source).
This is because farmworkers spend most of their time walking and standing.
The fewer calories you burn, the more likely you are to gain weight.
This is why sedentary behavior is so closely linked to obesity.
In fact, research shows that people with obesity sit for an average of two hours longer each day than do people with a normal weight (5Trusted Source).
Sedentary behavior is consistently linked to more than 30 chronic diseases and conditions, including a 112% increase in your risk of type 2 diabetes and a 147% increase in heart disease risk (6, 7Trusted Source).
Studies have shown that walking fewer than 1,500 steps per day, or sitting for long periods without reducing calorie intake, can cause a major increase in insulin resistance, which is a key driver of type 2 diabetes (9Trusted Source, 10).
Researchers believe that being sedentary may have a direct effect on insulin resistance. This effect can happen in as little as one day.
While regular exercise is always recommended, it doesn’t completely offset all the health risks of sitting too much.
One study measured metabolic markers in 18 people following different exercise protocols. One hour of intense exercise did not make up for the negative effects of inactivity when other hours were spent sitting (11Trusted Source).
Additionally, a review of 47 studies found that prolonged sitting was strongly linked to negative health outcomes, regardless of exercise levels (6).
As expected, the negative effects were even greater for people who rarely exercised.
People in Western societies spend too much time sitting.
While relaxing can be beneficial, you should try to minimize the time you spend sitting during the workday.
If you have a desk job, one solution is to get a standing desk or go for a few short walks during your workday.
Minimizing sedentary time is just as important for health as a nutritious diet and regular exercise.