Science has long found a number of strong links between the amount we exercise and the benefits to our health. More recently, researchers have been looking at the situation from another angle and are finding that too much sedentary time can be at least as harmful as exercising too little.

Recent research shows even people who exercise regularly still can be at risk for developing health problems such obesity and cardiovascular disease if they also spend a large amount of time being sedentary, such as when sitting. Having demonstrated the importance of regular exercise, science is increasingly training its focus on the effects of sedentary behavior. A growing body of evidence seems to point to one main message: Staying physically active throughout the day shouldn’t be confined to workouts.

A group of researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center, for example, have found that sedentary behaviors may lower cardiorespiratory fitness levels. New evidence suggests that two hours of sedentary behavior can be just as harmful as 20 minutes of exercise is beneficial.1 Researchers there analyzed accelerometer data from men and women between the ages of 12 and 49 with no known history of heart disease, asthma, or stroke. The researchers then measured the average daily physical activity and sedentary behavior times. Fitness was estimated using a submaximal treadmill test, and variables were adjusted for gender, age, and body mass index. The findingss showed that the negative effect of six hours of sedentary time on fitness levels was similar in magnitude to the benefit of one hour of exercise.

Another study has found that for those ages 60 and above, every additional hour a day spent sitting is linked to a doubling of the risk of being disabled — regardless of how much moderate exercise the person gets.2

What to Do?

If all this data paints a rather bleak portrayal of the magnitude of sednetary behavior, it also points to a bigger picture. Many researchers suggest that strategies that stress avoidance of sedentary behavior throughout the day could represent an important companion strategy to those that emphasize the concerted effort involved in regular bouts of exercise.1,2

To combat sedentary behavior, UT Southwestern preventive cardiologists recommend taking short walks during lunch and throughout the day, using a pedometer to track daily steps, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, hosting walking meetings at work, and replacing a standard desk chair with a fitness ball or even a treadmill desk, if possible.1

Other tips to remain moving throughout the day include:

-Standing up when you talk on the phone or during a work meeting.

-When driving to the grocery store or mall, park in a space farthest away.

-When you getting up to have glass of water, walk around the house or office. -When going for short errands, walk instead of taking the car.

-Taking the stairs instead of the elevator, if you are able and the building is so equipped.

While technology is sometimes blamed at a cultural level for contributing to excessive amounts of sedentary time (think of time spent in front of a television, or the computer at work and/or at home), some researchers are looking at the possibility of employing technology to motivate, or at least to remind, people to get up and move every so often. One such means that shows promise is the use of specialized applications for mobile electronic devices, which are already being used for everything from tracking calories to helping provide motivation, to serve as a sort of alarm clock.

Researchers at Brown University, for instance, have developed and tested a smartphone-based intervention application with the goal of cutting down on the amount of time people sit or recline throughout the course of their waking hours.3 To do so, the researchers developed a smartphone-based application and designed a study to objectively-measure sedentary time in overweight and obese test participants by breaking up prolonged periods of sedentary behavior with short bouts of physical activity, such as walking.


Beneficial as structured workouts are, it is important that clients understand that fitness behaviors needn’t begin and end at the gym door. No matter the motivator, the message is clear: It’s important, every so often, just to get up off of that thing.


1.Jacquelyn P. Kulinski, Amit Khera, Colby R. Ayers, Sandeep R. Das, James A. de Lemos, Steven N. Blair, Jarett D. Berry. Association Between Cardiorespiratory Fitness and Accelerometer-Derived Physical Activity and Sedentary Time in the General Population. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 2014; DOI: 10.1016/j.mayocp.2014.04.019

2. Dorothy Dunlop, Jing Song, Emily Arnston, Pamela Semanik, Jungwha Lee, Rowland Chang, Jennifer M. Hootman. Sedentary Time in U.S. Older Adults Associated With Disability in Activities of Daily Living Independent of Physical Activity. Journal of Physical Activity and Health, 2014; DOI: 10.1123/jpah.2013-0311

3. Bond, Dale S., et al. “B-MOBILE-A Smartphone-Based Intervention to Reduce Sedentary Time in Overweight/Obese Individuals: A Within-Subjects Experimental Trial.” PloS one 9.6 (2014): e100821.

NFPT Staff Writer

NFPT Staff Writers contribute in various ways to the NFPT blog