Expert Answers
enotes eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A sedentary lifestyle involves much sitting and hardly any physical activity. Sometimes called "sitting disease," a sedentary lifestyle could put a person's health at risk. Many people lead sedentary lives. They sit in a car to commute to work and travel to other places; they sit at desks all day at work; and they come home and sit in front of the television or computer. Prior to the advent of modern technology, people were forced to move more. Before the Internet, people had to physically go to the bank or stores to shop, but now this can be done with online banking or online shopping. In addition, chores such as cutting the grass and cleaning were more physical before riding lawnmowers and robotic vacuums were introduced.

Another growing problem is that people are favoring nonphysical activities such as playing video games over physical activities such as going outside to play a real game or sport. In addition, several studies have shown that regular exercise may not be enough to negate a sedentary lifestyle. Researchers now urge people to sit less instead of just moving more.

Effects on Health

The World Health Organization (WHO) cites physical inactivity as the fourth leading cause of death around the world. A 2015 study in the Annals of Internal Medicine links a sedentary lifestyle to an increased risk of illness, disease, and even early death. People who sit for eight to twelve or more hours a day increase their risk for developing conditions such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, and obesity. Sitting for long periods increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by nearly 90 percent. The study also found that excessive sitting increases the risk of dying of cardiovascular disease by 18 percent and dying of cancer by 17 percent. It increases the probability a person will be diagnosed with heart problems by 14 percent and cancer by 13 percent. Researchers also studied the types of cancer found in people who sat too long and found higher risks of breast, colon, colorectal, endometrial, and ovarian cancers.

Sitting for prolonged periods can also cause circulation disorders such as varicose veins and blood clots known as deep vein thrombosis. It can lead to osteoporosis , a condition in which the bones become weak. Sitting also can cause back, neck, shoulder, and spine issues such as herniated disks.

In addition, researchers found that while exercise generally lowered risks of health conditions, it did not negate the risks associated with sitting for long periods. They noted that this should not deter people from exercising, but it should increase people's awareness of the need to move more and sit less. Simply standing a few minutes each hour increases activity levels and reduces the risks associated with being sedentary.

Ways to Move More

Ways exist for people who do much sitting to sneak in some non-sitting time. If people cannot remember to get up a few minutes out of each hour they are sitting, they can set an alarm to remind them, or they can even pair up with a friend to help remind and motivate each other to move more throughout the day. People should aim to stretch, turn, and bend a few minutes out of every hour. These are easy ways to keep the body moving without exerting a great deal of energy.

While at work, people should look for creative ways to move throughout the day. They can use their lunch break to get in a workout at a nearby gym. They can use the stairs instead of the elevator, ask a coworker a question in person instead of sending an e-mail, or walk during breaks. Even standing up at random times throughout the day helps. People can stand while using the telephone or during meetings. They can easily raise their computer screens and keyboards (by propping a few books underneath each) to make it easier to stand and work. Some workers can request items such as stand-up desks or work station treadmills to promote more activity while working.

Employers also can do more to promote physical activity at work. They can reorganize work spaces and move trash cans, printers, fax machines, and other equipment out of offices and into spaces that force people to get up to use them. They can provide gym memberships or install exercise equipment in break rooms.

Instead of driving or taking the bus to work or other places, people can walk or bicycle instead. While riding public transportation, people can stand and stretch instead of sitting or even get off a few stops early and walk the rest of the way. Those who drive could park farther away from entrances to encourage walking longer distances.

People should also multitask while engaging in sedentary activities. People can move exercise equipment such as treadmills and bikes in front of televisions so they can exercise while watching their favorite programs. Instead of sitting in front of a computer, they can use devices such as tablets or smartphones to surf the Internet while using exercise equipment. People do not even need special equipment to move more. They can vow to get up and perform exercises such as jumping jacks or push-ups during television commercial breaks. They can march in place or pace while talking on the phone.

In addition to incorporating physical activity into everyday activities, medical professionals from the American Heart Association and the American College of Sports Medicine suggest that adults and children should aim to get some form of exercise for about thirty minutes a day at least five days a week. They recommend performing a variety of moderate-intensity and vigorous-intensity aerobic activities along with strength-training exercises.


Berkowitz, Bonnie, and Patterson Clark. "The Health Hazards of Sitting." Washington Post. Washington Post. 20 Jan. 2014. Web. 23 Mar. 2015.

Christensen, Jen. "Sitting Will Kill You, Even If You Exercise." CNN. Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. 21 Jan. 2015. Web. 23 Mar. 2015.

Fields, Lisa. "Do You Have Sitting Disease?" WebMD. WebMD, LLC. 22 Nov. 2012. Web. 23 Mar. 2015.

Geggel, Laura. "Too Much Sitting May Have Some Serious Health Effects—Even If You Exercise." Washington Post. Washington Post. 26 Jan. 2015. Web. 23 Mar. 2015.

McInnis, Kyle, and Barry A. Franklin. "Sedentary Lifestyle and Cardiovascular Disease." Encyclopedia of Lifestyle Medicine & Health, Vol. 2. Ed. James M. Rippe. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Reference, 2012. 1021–1024. Print.