Sitting Is Not the Enemy

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You've read the headlines time and time again: Sitting is really bad for you. Sitting is the new smoking. It can lead to your untimely demise and working out doesn't undo the damage. Well, researchers at the University of Exeter disagree, saying that time spent seated actually doesn't increase the risk of death in people who are otherwise active. And they think that the emphasis on simply standing more might be misguided.

For a study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, researchers analyzed data from about 5,100 London-based British government employees who were followed for 16 years. The participants were asked to report time spent sitting at work and during leisure time, daily walking time, and the amount of moderate to vigorous physical activity they did. Over the study period, 450 people died. The researchers found that sitting time was not associated with a higher risk of dying, even after controlling for age, gender, diet, overall health, and socioeconomic status. They said the participants, who used public transit to get to their jobs in London, walked twice as much per day than the average U.K. resident and this activity may have had a protective effect against sitting.

This study is smaller than others done on the topic and it certainly won't be the last, but the authors suggest that we shouldn't focus on sitting less and standing more — we need to actually move. As co-author Melvyn Hillsdon said in a release: "Our study overturns current thinking on the health risks of sitting and indicates that the problem lies in the absence of movement rather than the time spent sitting itself. Any stationary posture where energy expenditure is low may be detrimental to health, be it sitting or standing. The results cast doubt on the benefits of sit-stand work stations, which employers are increasingly providing to promote healthy working environments."

If you have a standing desk, awesome for you (and your back). Just don't assume that standing is a magic elixir all on its own.