Does Sitting Time Decrease Your Lifespan (Even If You Exercise)?

by Alejandra "Alex" Ruani — Get free science updates here.
Sitting Time Impairs Health

Photo Credit: flickr

The greater amount of time that you give to sitting on your bum can land two significant things right on your lap. And neither of them is encouraging.

One is impaired health and the other is a decrease in your lifespan. Yes, this applies even if you are fit and exercise regularly. Sorry.

I know that isn’t very supportive news in the least bit; however, this is what’s in the “sitting” science that is being revealed more and more these days. The good news is that same level of science also offers us a remedy to getting healthier and living longer.

It turns out that getting up on two feet (i.e. standing) could be a good approach to better health and longevity!

You’re about to see how that act of standing, at the very least, can offer protection for your DNA and keep you young.

Let’s first cover the basics of what the act of sitting over time does to your body and then we’ll go into how you can help yourself recover and renew towards a better version of yourself.

How does sitting time impair health?

Sitting for continued periods of time causes your body and its systems to slow down or actually shut down at a metabolic level, says Marc Hamilton, Ph.D., professor and director of the inactivity physiology department at Pennington Biomedical Research Center.

When you don’t use your body parts, they become weak.

Sara Rosenkranz, an assistant professor at Kansas State University, studied the data of nearly 200,000 participants in The 45 and Up Study and said it best:

We’re basically telling our bodies to shut down the processes that help to stimulate metabolism throughout the day and that is not good… just by breaking up your sedentary time, we can actually up-regulate that process in the body.

We are designed to move

Dr. Hamilton goes on to point out that our bodies are designed to move, so when we don’t move this increases our risk of heart disease, diabetes, and mortality.

Makes sense, doesn’t it?

Have you experienced the physical effects of too much sitting for yourself? Maybe just feeling groggy and sluggish or even tightness in your joints and low back or ‘mushy’ abs?

Maybe you can relate to this.

Click here to get an excellent PDF download that details a chain of problems encountered from too much sitting time and also shows you both the wrong way and the right way to sit.

Sitting time increases the risk of cancer

The American Institute for Cancer Research associates extended sitting time with an increased risk of both breast and colon cancers, even among people who exercise daily!

Christine Friedenreich, PhD, of Alberta Health Services-Cancer Care in Canada, presented findings of the protective connection between physical activity and cancers. In the Alberta Physical Activity and Breast Cancer trial, Friedenreich and team concluded that exercise can be an option for breast cancer prevention.

That trial looked at the C-reactive protein, which is a marker of inflammation and linked to cancer risk. It showed that moderate to vigorous daily activity reduced C-reactive protein levels among post-menopausal women.

Even though it is unclear at the moment of exactly how inflammation increases the risk of cancer, we do know that inflammation produces chemicals called pro-inflammatory cytokines, which stimulate cell reproduction whilst suppressing cell death. These chemicals do contribute to cancer risk.

Prolonged sitting time merely increases that cancer risk. Evidence even suggests that these key indicators of cancer risk are lowered when that prolonged sitting is interrupted with brief (1-2 minute) breaks.

In those brief two-minute breaks: do anything but sit. Get up, be impromptu, and get imaginative. Just standing is good enough as you’ll see shortly!

The good news: sitting less can reverse ageing

In one of our recent articles we talked about telomeres and how stress can prematurely age you by affecting them. Telomeres are the protective caps at the ends of chromosomes (DNA molecules) that affect how quickly your cells age. They are sort of like the plastic at the end of shoelaces, keeping the end of chromosomes tied.

Telomeres, which guard our chromosomes from disintegration, shorten with age.

Shorter telomeres are associated with an increased risk of disease and a shorter lifespan.

But here’s the good news:

An encouraging new study published in the British Medical Journal shows us that less sitting time actually lengthens telomeres, in a sense delaying ageing on a cellular level.

Restricting the amount of time you sit might actually lengthen those telomeres. This alone can give an enormous boost to your health and longevity.

Longer telomeres equate to a lower risk of developing a wide variety of conditions, better health, and more youth.

What else can help lengthen your telomeres?

A 2013 pilot study led by Dr. Dean Ornish suggested for the first time that lifestyle changes such as adopting a healthier diet, exercising, and reducing stress all work in a positive direction to lengthen your telomeres.

So, what does it all boil down to?

In short, longer, healthier telomeres mean your chromosomes will have less fraying, clumping together, and alteration of the genetic code. Longer telomeres are linked to a longer, healthier life because they are a vital protector of our DNA.

So sitting less is beneficial to keeping the vitality of these links strong and healthy, thus promoting your longevity and reducing your risk of disease.

Stand up for yourself!

It also means that simply standing more could be better for you than sitting all day without breaks. It’s as easy as getting up from your chair, or whatever you are sitting on, and stand.

Whenever you have an opportunity, get into the habit of standing up. You will do your body and your long-term health a big favour.

Standing increases energy, burns extra calories, tones muscles, improves posture, increases blood flow, and ramps up metabolism in a healthy way.

Take breaks to stand up or move around during long periods of sitting. And don’t sit for too long. Set a timer if you wish to prompt you to get up every 55 minutes.

Sometimes we get so engrossed in what we are doing, watching, or paying attention to that we forget about ourselves.

You might want to look at standing as one way to wash or clear body congestion and heaviness that occurs from too much sitting.

Over to you

How about yourself? Do you recognise the amount of time that you spend sitting and how detrimental to your health it is? What do you do in response to that?

Also, any posture experts that want to pitch in?

Please share some of your ideas and join in the conversation so that we can all help each other. Share this with someone you know who may have a chronic sitting problem and isn’t even aware of how much a health hazard sitting has become!

Every other Thursday we share our research and actionable advice to help you and those you care about. If you enjoyed this, join our FREE updates.


  • Kelly Najdovski

    Reply Reply October 9, 2014


    just wanted to say that I just received your weekly email and I think the pdf on sitting is fantastic. I found it really interesting and can relate to sitting myself. I will be definitely trying to change my habits. What a great reference to refer to.


    • Vegard

      Reply Reply February 11, 2015

      Very good. How can I get this in PDF? I gave already subscribed the weekly readers to get updates on PDF´s every Thursday.

      • admin

        Reply Reply February 11, 2015

        Hi Vegard, that’s great news, welcome! This piece (Does Sitting Time Decrease Your Lifespan?) is on web format only, we moved to the new PDF format just a few weeks ago :-) You can grab our latest PDF here: and keep an eye on your inbox each Thursday for the brand new reports. Enjoy! Maria (Research Analyst)

  • Gillian Stearn

    Reply Reply October 9, 2014


    Me too kelly have just read this really interesting article. I am exactly in the situation that your article is referring to. I have recently had a shoulder operation and now have been told that I have osteoarthritis in my right shoulder. I was working full time as an administrator on a fixed term position. I struggled with many duties and was put on a capability situation – ironically I was working for the NHS. Well, 4 months after my operation I am no better – in fact my shoulder gives more pain at times. I now realise why I am in so much pain because I am sitting so much during the day and evening. For my own health and needing to lose weight I know I must move around much more and exercise. My friend said to me “if you don’t use it you will lose it”. She is absolutely right. Receiving this email notification and article at 5.30am in the morning – this being due to me falling asleep far too early has given me a wake up call.

    thank you so so much health sciences academy I so look forward to all your articles and excellent information.

    kind regards

    • Alex

      Reply Reply October 10, 2014

      Gillian – I love to hear that, thank you, and your friend is right :-)

  • Abi

    Reply Reply October 9, 2014

    This is such a helpful article. I will definately use this with my pts at work as so much of my job (practice nurse) is about lifestyle. Also, I’m really bad at sitting down and often prefer to stand, I get told off a lot for it so now I have some evidence to show its a good idea! Thank you.

  • Ackienko

    Reply Reply October 9, 2014

    Very interesting. I suppose it makes sense when you think about it. Sitting down, especially in a chair is not natural for us at all. When i speak with friends i constantly refer to us as animals in the wild. Movement is natural and you can see the benefits from the article above. I am currently in a job in which i am sitting down quite a bit and it has given me slight lower back ache. From now on i will try to move around and maybe have a quick stretch. No doubt it will raise a few eyebrows from my colleagues but then it will give me a chance to explain why and educate/bore them!!!

  • Agata

    Reply Reply October 9, 2014

    The article explain me how is that possible that so many people who I treat have a swelling around the spleen…
    Then cancer can attack more…

  • Michelle

    Reply Reply October 9, 2014

    Thank you for such an informative article. I knew too much sitting was unhealthy, but having studies and detailed explanations to motivate us to move and stand more makes it compelling to take action. I did not know that less sitting could help prevent some of the diseases mentioned. After sitting at work, I used to come home and sit all evening while eating unhealthy foods due to stress and exhaustion. Now, I started training for a marathon so have a commitment to get moving a few times a week and eat healthfully for proper fuel. I also take modest walks a couple times a day at work and get up frequently to mail something or get documents from the printer. Those tiny breaks keep me from being stuck in my chair for hours.

    • Alex

      Reply Reply October 10, 2014

      Michelle – your change is very inspiring, way to go!

  • Maurice Castelijn

    Reply Reply October 9, 2014

    That’s super interesting Alex. Think that every professional, especially in an office type of job, will benefit from reading this. Going to share it on LinkedIn with my network. Time for me now to take a standing/walking break!

  • Courtney Laws

    Reply Reply October 9, 2014

    I am getting up right now! This article is so on point. Stand for yourself is a powerful statement!

  • Kathy

    Reply Reply October 9, 2014

    Excellent article! I’m going to share this with my health and wellness support group.

  • Skip Poster

    Reply Reply October 9, 2014

    Yes I believe sitting to long is a problem, so if your watching a program on TV get up and move around during the commercials. As long as its not to go to the fridge !

  • Diana

    Reply Reply October 9, 2014

    Great article this morning! I am a Pilates instructor and spend a lot of time talking with my clients about proper sitting posture. Chronic low back pain is a very common symptom for my clients who sit for long periods of time. The first step in correcting a poor sitting posture is awareness. Throughout the day, notice if you are slumping forward, rounding your shoulders and poking your chin forward. Without getting into the lengthy anatomy of how to correct this, here is a bit of imagery to align yourself.

    Imagine there is a string attached to the crown of your head lifting you toward the sky. Feel your entire spine lengthen, your shoulders naturally fall away from your ears and your jaw relax.

    What do you feel? Can you breathe easier? Do you feel taller? Can you feel how your core can support your spine?

    Try it!

    • Alex

      Reply Reply October 10, 2014

      Diana – our entire team is doing your crown method, fantastic tip :-)

  • Sue Moore

    Reply Reply October 9, 2014

    I loved this article! I have never been much of a “sitter” but have recently started a job as a substitute teacher with my local middle school and I am confided to a classroom desk much of the day because of the type of classroom I am teaching. I am the “In School Suspension” teacher and as such it is a disciplinary room and I am the one feeling punished more so than the kids. They enjoy sitting at the desks. Me, not so much! I am 51 and have rheumatoid arthritis so I enjoy being able to move when I want, rest when I need. I leave here at the end of the day feeling awful from the sitting and am looking for another placement! In the meantime, I have found ways to get up and about in my room and when I get home I don’t sit until bedtime!

  • cody spencer

    Reply Reply October 9, 2014

    I have an old lawyer’s desk which requires one to stand to use it. I have used it for years, and I know that I am in much better condition than when I have to sit for a long time. I don’t know if these desks are still available, but anyone who has a desk job might want to look into them. They will help prevent the evils of prolonged sitting.

    • Alex

      Reply Reply October 10, 2014

      Cody – standing office desks, not a bad idea!

      • Enya

        Reply Reply October 23, 2014

        I wonder whether using ergonomic chairs or sitting on a Swiss ball would have the same detrimental effect?


    Reply Reply October 10, 2014

    I am a massage therapist and I do a lot of lymphatic drainage. A major set of lymph nodes are the inquinal which just happen to be right in the crease where you sit just above the pelvic bone. If they are squished all day they can’t drain properly and therefore cannot do their job properly.

  • mirjam

    Reply Reply October 10, 2014

    Yah, my work as a weaver asks for sitting, but there are stand up looms,
    However i know that stand up jobs, such as hairdressers,or sales people have other problems, labour related.
    Trying to integrate both, stand / sit,and some in between,thai-chi or
    Yogic activity seems to be the best point is , so many drive cars…sitting, only on the bus you can be driven, standing!

  • Leela Panikar

    Reply Reply October 24, 2014

    Alex, thanks for this. As a writer I spend much time sitting before a computerer. I have trained myself to read walking around the home without falling over furniture. And so living longer…lol!

  • Sherry

    Reply Reply January 3, 2015

    I work at a highly sedentary clerical job within government. Previous injuries from sitting resulted in testing through work which resulted in changes of desk set up, computer set up, chair, and recommendations of standing at work by having an option to raise/lower my computer station so I could sit/stand at my discretion. The unit cost about $300. My director advised my supervisor that if I couldn’t sit, that I couldn’t do the job. So in spite of medical recommendations, I could lose my job by standing up.

    This information needs to go viral.

  • Terri Apuzzo

    Reply Reply June 30, 2015

    A good book to read on this topic is “Get Up. Why Your Chair is Killing You and What You Can Do About It” by Dr. James Levine. It echoes much of the same in this review. In addition, they developed experimental classrooms that incorporated physical activity instead of traditional sitting learning. The results were astounding. The children were happier and performed significantly better with testing. This part is a little off topic, but may be interesting to any of you who have children. They found it especially helpful with those with ADHD. I think we can conclude across the board, that we were just not created to sit! Atleast not so much.

  • Leigh Jones

    Reply Reply October 27, 2016

    I generally find that as long as my hydration is high (and given that I work in a humid country with strong reliance on air conditioning I try to drink at least 4L on a training day), I am almost forced into standing regularly, just for the purpose of toilet breaks. This is clearly a win win situation so will be re-emphasising this point with clients.

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