The Dangers of Sitting

It's been linked to a build-up of fat around your heart—and exercise doesn't seem to help

Woman sitting at desk

You’ve seen your coworkers who refuse seats during meetings and convert their workspaces to standing desks. Thanks to the dangers associated with sitting, standing is having a moment. The question is, should you get out of your chair, too?

Prolonged sitting has been linked to health and mortality risks in recent experimental studies. That may not necessarily come as a surprise, especially to those who’ve developed back problems or muscle soreness from spending hours at a desk. But research from the University of California, San Diego, has uncovered something even more terrifying than the potentially life-threatening aspects of sitting down: Exercise may not help.

Researchers observed that the fat around the heart, pericardial fat, was most associated with sitting and isn't susceptible to exercise. There is growing evidence that time spent sitting is related to cardiovascular health risks, says study author Britta Larsen, PhD, postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, San Diego. On the upside, the study found that exercise can be effective against abdominal fat, which may also build up from prolonged sitting. It’s still unknown as to why exercise is effective for some fat and not others.

It’s important to remember this is just the beginning of what should be a long research process, Larsen says. There is simply not enough evidence to make causal claims about the effects of sitting on health, but the seeming trend points to the relationship between a sedentary lifestyle and weight problems, which could lead to a shorter life.

So, what can you do to avoid the sitting trap? Larsen suggests standing for a few minutes every half hour. That “may actually be enough to counteract some of the effects of sitting. If possible, try to choose one seated activity per day to do standing instead," she says. Try these suggestions—your body won’t regret it.

  • Take a walk around the block during your lunch hour, even if you packed your lunch
  • Get up every half hour and work standing up
  • Answer every other phone call up on your feet