Why Sitting at a Desk All Day Is Bad For Your Health

Why Sitting at a Desk All Day Is Bad For Your Health

By Jamie Matthewman
August 25th, 2015

Do you know that if you spend at least some of your working day sat at a desk, you could be posing a significant risk to your health? In this article I explore why sitting is bad for you and how you can minimise the risk by making changes to your daily routine.

Why Sitting is Bad for You

I’ve sat on my backside for years. Every, long term job I’ve ever had was office based, as a result I sat on my arse for about 10 hours a day. If I wasn’t in the office I’d be commuting or driving to meetings, so when I got where I needed to be, more often than not I’d still be sat on my behind.

As I transitioned from the 9-5 in 2009. 10 hours became 12. Technology meant my office was now the spare room and once the workday was done, I’d invariably move from the comfort of my office chair to sofa. 

Fortunately exercise has long been an important part of my life, but even still 10 hours a day spent on my butt, 5 days a week for 35 weeks a year adds up! During a 13 year period this equates to 1750 hours a year (73 days) and 22750 hours in total (948 days).

This doesn’t take into account weekends or any time outside lazing on the sofa. Irrespective in 13 years, 3 years of my life were spent sitting down and another 4 spent on my back sleeping. 

You might be wondering so what?

Actually the numbers are sobering because the reason I considered doing the maths is because I already knew too much sitting is bad for your health. I discovered this about 3 years ago, but the link between illness and sitting first emerged in the 1950’s, when researchers found London bus drivers were twice as likely to have heart attacks as their bus conductor colleagues.

Since then a myriad of research has been undertaken worldwide. This UK study on Sedentary Behaviour and Obesity which meta analysed 18 studies (with a total of 794,577 participants) that had examined the association between the time spent sitting down and the risk of chronic disease, found that the greatest time spent sitting compared with the lowest time spent sitting, was associated with a:

  • 112% increase in risk of diabetes
  • 147% increase in cardiovascular events
  • 90% increase in death due to cardiovascular events
  • 49% increase in death due to any cause

Excessive sitting slows the metabolism. This affects your bodies ability to regulate blood sugar, blood pressure, and metabolise fat, which may lead to weaker muscles and bones. Essentially, the body ‘shuts down’ when there is little muscle activity.

The more hours spent sitting at work, driving, lying on the sofa watching TV, or engaged in other leisurely pursuits, the greater odds of dying early from the above causes. In fact this Australian study, published in the British Medical Journal found that on average, every single hour of TV viewed after the age of 25 reduces the viewer’s life expectancy by 21.8 minutes. And according to the Huffington Post, men who sit more than 6 hours a day are 18% more likely to die an untimely death.

Exercise Alone Doesn’t Alleviate the Risk

You might think that if you’re exercising regularly this will balance things out, but apparently not. Sitting too much will not only lead to a spreading of the posterior due to cellular expansion, but the research also suggests remaining seated for too long, regardless of how much exercise you do will still be detrimental to your health.

Professor Stuart Biddle, who led the UK’s national guidelines on reducing sitting, says

“If someone goes to the gym or walks for 30 to 45 minutes a day, but sits down the rest of the time, then they are still described as having a ‘sedentary lifestyle’. “All-day movement is now seen as being just as important for the maintenance of good health as traditional exercise.”

11 Tips to Reduce Your Daily Sitting Time

So you’ve heard some of the arguments about why sitting is bad for you, so here’s 11 ideas you can implement to help you decrease the amount of time you’re seated.

When I first heard that too much time sitting decreases longevity. I decided I was going to do something about it so I built a stand up desk. Well actually a carpenter did, but it was my design 🙂

why you need a standing desk

At first standing for prolonged periods took some getting used to, my legs ached after a few hours and my feet still do sometimes, so some day’s I’ll pull up a chair and take rest. However most days I’ll stand all day.

If you’re like me and keen to spend more time on your feet, but building a desk isn’t practical here are 11 ideas to help you spend less time on your backside each day :

  1. Make exercise the first thing you do before you start your working day, then it won’t drop off your things to do list like can often happen
  2. Stand on the train or bus whilst commuting or when travelling
  3. Take the stairs
  4. Set a reminder on your phone to stand up and walk around every 30 minutes, incorporate this if you can with press ups, chin ups or a combination of exercises
  5. If you can, alternate working seated with standing. If I’m not in my office, I work from the kitchen worktop which is the ideal standing desk height (for me)
  6. kitchen standing desk

  7. Place your laptop on a box on top of your desk so that it raises the height so that you can stand and work
  8. Stand or walk around while you’re making sales calls, using skype etc etc
  9. Take a 5-10 minute walk break every time you have a coffee break
  10. If you work in an office walk to your colleagues desks instead of emailing or calling
  11. Swap some TV time for more active tasks or hobbies like joining a running club. You could watch from your favourite cardio machine in the gym
  12. Get a dog…then you have no excuse putting off going for a walk or a jog


Now you know why sitting is bad for you, whether at a desk or behind a wheel bear in mind there are limitations in all the studies.

The key takeaway though is to find ways to compensate for the impact desk-job lifestyles can have on your physical health.

You need to combine standing up more with the recommended levels of exercise weekly. Exercise alone does not compensate for the detrimental effects being sedentary most of the day can have

Finally here’s a great video by Matthew Dalkilinç which provides a 5 minute summary of why sitting is bad for your health.

Jamie Matthewman

About Jamie Matthewman

Jamie is the founder, main contributor and editor of The Inspired Man.

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