Sitting Too Much Is Harmful for Our Bodies, Minds, and Spirits

Friday, March 07, 2014

Get up, stand up! Evidence is mounting that sitting for long stretches of time — in a car, at a desk, or on the couch — is bad for our health. A sedentary way of life and spending hours sitting down seems to increase the risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer. Dr. James Levine, professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic, professor at Arizona State University, and a national leader in obesity research, and Dr. Wayne Stokes, director of Sports Medicine Rehab at NYU Langone Medical Center, explain how sitting causes health problems and what we can do to counteract them.

Research by Dr. Levine and others reveals that  sitting for more than 2 hours a day is directly linked to health problems like obesity, metabolic disorders, increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist and high cholesterol. One Australian study showed that adults who watch an average of six hours of television day over their lifetimes will die 4.8 years sooner that adults who don’t sit for hours watching television.  

“It’s rather like having a Ferrari idling for three months. It gets clogged up with grit and oil and sludge, and that kind of sludge is what you’re seeing in the muscle bands,” Levine said. He also said that moving around improves intuitive and creative thinking. “There’s cognitive dulling and we’re just not as smart as we could be” when we sit all day.

Even regular exercise at the gym isn’t enough to counteract the negative effects of sitting at our desks and in front of the television for long stretches. We have to move more and more often. Levine and Stokes recommend using standing desks, even a treadmill desk, or, at the very least, standing or moving every 15 minutes or so while you’re sitting at work — get up to talk on the phone, go talk to colleagues instead of e-mailing them, take short walks and standing breaks. In addition to the metabolic problems caused by inactivity, Stokes points out that sitting leads to slouching and poor posture can cause back and shoulder pain that many people who sit in front of a computer all day experience.

But don't worry if you've been too sedentary — it’s never too late to make changes. “If one embarks on a program of chairlessness, of getting out of the chair and starting to move more,” Levine said, “one can achieve very, very significant improvement.”


Dr. James Levine and Dr. Wayne Stokes

Comments [59]


And this is sitting just 2 hours a day! How many people out there at work, school, or otherwise DON'T spend 2 hours a day sitting? I'd like to meet them. Anyway - an adjustable height desk is the way to go. Sit when your feet become sore, stand when you've been sitting too long! Also, I can hear the collective sigh of taxi/bus drivers around the world after reading this piece.

May. 20 2014 09:12 AM
DE Teodoru

Long ago it was estimated that venous return to the heart is DECREASED by 26% when you are sitting in the car or driving. The decreased blood return to the heart through the venous system because you sit on your helpless veins can only be ameliorated by sequential muscle contractions under your seat. It can get quite exhaustive at first, but decreased cardiac return means decreased coronary flow to your heart so that it suffers ischemia while you sit. In response, you heart gets stiffer and stiffer until "diastolic dysfunction" appears on a routine echo-cardiogram years earlier than it would in active people, leading to early heart fibrosis and heart failure......we were made upright to walk, walk, walk!

Apr. 19 2014 01:51 PM
David from New Jersey

A problem with our spines because of bi-pedalism.

Mar. 07 2014 10:49 PM
tom li

To Rae - the first step is stop separating the mind and the body, they always work in tandem. Its been the biggest fault of Western medicine to separate the two. Thanks to Descartes the West has been suffering from this split for too long. Your mind effects all of the body, there is no one thing is better for one than the other....

Read Dr Sarno, Mind Body Connection and how stress is the biggest cause of back pain, etc and not anything actually physical. Sciatica is a myth! There is no way for a doctor to diagnose a "pinched" nerve without a real look inside the body...not even an MRi can see it.

Mar. 07 2014 05:28 PM
DTorres from Manhattan

I had a lot of problems with stiff back, joints, limited range of motion.
Sitting too much made my body hurt.
From my niece, Gloria I learned about Yamuna Body Rolling.
Gloria fell down last winter and fractured her knee.
Yoga caused her pain in that area.
That's why she took up the body rolling.
Gloria went to the classes and she taught me how to do it with the ball.
Body Rolling and Foam Rolling,
which I do at home, has really helped me a lot.
I also go to the Asser Levy Gym and use the free swimming pool there.
I used to go out with a shopping cart for balance, now I don't have to

Mar. 07 2014 05:24 PM
Rae Francoeur from Manhattan

We have also been hearing a lot about work interruptions that usually come from emails, texts, etc. These interruptions can hurt our ability to concentration and this is a concern for people like me who write. We need long stretches of uninterrupted time to do our best work. Now we're learning that we have to build in interruptions to stand and move. I'm not against this practice. But how to balance what's good for our brains with what's good for our bodies?

Mar. 07 2014 02:56 PM
Sarah from Manhattan

I bought a stand up desk recently. At first, I couldn't stand all day, but I'm almost there. I really feel it in my legs.

Mar. 07 2014 01:59 PM
Nancy from Brooklyn

Now in my mid-50s, I've had back problems since my early 20s. When I left my office job 6 years ago to become a gardener, I worried about how this would affect my back and when the first crisis would hit, but in fact in the 6 years since, I have not had a single back problem (despite doing "back-breaking" work!).

I have been surprised about this but maybe it makes sense. Knock wood, hope the good luck continues.

Mar. 07 2014 01:58 PM
Renee from Manhattan

Would you guests be able to post a list of products they recommend? I'm listening and they keep saying they don't want to name names, but it would be EXTREMELY helpful to have at least a starting point for trackers and standing desks.

Mar. 07 2014 01:58 PM
Nancy from Brooklyn

Now in my mid-50s, I've had back problems since my early 20s. When I left my office job 6 years ago to become a gardener, I worried about how this would affect my back and when the first crisis would hit, but in fact in the 6 years since, I have not had a single back problem (despite doing "back-breaking" work!).

I have been surprised about this but maybe it makes sense. Knock wood, hope the good luck continues.

Mar. 07 2014 01:56 PM
Wila from LI

As a horseback riding enthusiast, I learned about the concept and practice of "active sitting", as my instructor referred to it, which is necessary for maintaining balance and coordination with the horse's movement. As I became increasingly acclimated to the saddle, I actually developed an aversion to the confinement of chairs, sofas, etc and learned to apply the principles of active sitting all the time. That is, using my own muscles for support and balance, and maintaining connectivity through my legs as though I was in the saddle. Particularly practiced this on my 3-hour daily round-trip commuter bus ride (great for core strength!). Many years from my riding days, I still avoid resting my weight on a chair back and maintain riding posture, which I believe has served me well. I also furnished my home with mostly high perches (bar and counter-height chairs) and use a stand-up position at my home computer (invested in some comfortable supportive slip ons in lieu of house slippers). I hate low deep soft sofas and chairs...awful!!!

Mar. 07 2014 01:54 PM
jen from brooklyn

For over a year I used a stand-up desk with a gel mat and running shoes. I wound up with terrible shin splints. Particular to me (a healthy person in my early 30's) or something all should be concerned with?

Mar. 07 2014 01:52 PM
tom li

Sciatica can not be diagnosed without an intrusive procedure. Its a complete guess on a doctors part.

A few words - Dr Sarno, Mind body connection - TMS!!!! Read it and learn about back and shoulder pain!

Mar. 07 2014 01:51 PM
Betty from Bronx, NY

What about kneeling chairs?

Mar. 07 2014 01:51 PM
jen from brooklyn

For over a year I used a stand-up desk with a gel mat and running shoes. I wound up with terrible shin splints. Particular to me (a healthy person in my early 30's) or something all should be concerned with?

Mar. 07 2014 01:51 PM
Joseph from Manhattan

What about squatting? (for instance, while gardening, various chores...)

Mar. 07 2014 01:49 PM
irving vincent

Is there an advantage to using an under desk bike?

Mar. 07 2014 01:48 PM
Monica from Queens, NY

So glad another caller mentioned this and that the speakers have something relevant to say about the effects on school children!

Mar. 07 2014 01:48 PM
Lee NYC from Manhattan

What are the experts' thoughts on Standing Desks?

Mar. 07 2014 01:48 PM
Leslie from Edison NJ

I am 59, used to be extremely active but recently became disabled in one leg. I still go to the gym and use an elliptical and stationary bike but cannot easily walk around much during the rest of the day. Do you have any suggestions for how I can avoid being sedentary with one seriously compromised leg? I am considering forearm crutches but also have severe arthritis in one elbow.

Mar. 07 2014 01:46 PM
Monica Ianculovici from Queens, NY

Imagine the implications of this on school children. Its especially interesting that the speakers do mention the effect of prolonged sitting on creative and cognitive functioning. Many teachers have understood this for a long time.

Mar. 07 2014 01:46 PM
Jay Greenberg

I have a sedentary job that involves sitting 8+ hrs a day and 2.5 hrs commuting on Metro North. However I work out in the gym 5-6 days a week
and walk 3 times a day for a total of 80-100 minutes (20 minutes from Grand Central to the office, 30 -45 minutes at lunch and 20-30 minutes back to the station. Does this activity mitigate the effects of sitting so much?

Mar. 07 2014 01:46 PM
Ely kogan from Manhattan

Is standing at a work desk better? I worked in a pharmacy and stood
For 12 hours and my lower back was in pain at the end of the day.

Mar. 07 2014 01:45 PM
Sarah, sustaining member from CT

ARGH! PLease, Please can you all say, "Type 2" diabetes when you are talking about lifestyle induced disease?? It's not that hard! Try it - you can all do it!

Mar. 07 2014 01:45 PM
Anne from Westchester

What is a pianist to do? I stand and stretch every so often, is there anything else I can do? Also, what do you think about Alexander Technique?

Mar. 07 2014 01:44 PM
Meredith from nyc

s it better to sit on high counter stool chairs so you lean on them with feet on floor? Or puta foot on a stool?....could set this up at computer.

Mar. 07 2014 01:43 PM
Tim from Brooklyn

What about STANDING at a desk? (i.e. a higher desk)? Better?

Mar. 07 2014 01:43 PM
Tim Picard from Columbus Ohio

I sit on an exercise ball all day at work - it's been great for my legs,back and peace of mind

Mar. 07 2014 01:43 PM
michele from manhattan

Please, what about the bedridden? How can I help my husband, confined to bed?

Mar. 07 2014 01:43 PM

Where is the concern and consideration for the jobs that are so necessary to life in our times as the BUS DRIVERS!! They do not have the same opportunity as those you are describing in offices. I wonder if the bus drivers should have some special training to protect their bodies from the prolonged sitting requirements and the accompanying stress. Please answer if you can. I rarely see a trim fit bus driver and do worry.

Mar. 07 2014 01:43 PM
ruth marshall from bronx, ny

hi, I sit a lot for my work and sat with my knee bent with my foot under my butt in order to try and sit up straighter, I now have some pain in that knee for 4 months now, any suggestions for what it could be and how to fix this problem? FYI I no longer sit that way and haven't since the pain began. Thanks for any suggestions or help!

Mar. 07 2014 01:42 PM
Zach from brooklyn ny

What if you have an office job, but do intense weight training every day?

Mar. 07 2014 01:41 PM
Regina from Brooklyn

Are there any cons to standing too much? I work on my feet as a chef for hours standing in one place and my legs get tired.

Mar. 07 2014 01:41 PM
Ana from NJ

What do you think about walking desks?

Mar. 07 2014 01:41 PM
Ray in Westchester from Westchester

If you change your sitting patterns by eliminating sitting as much as possible, can you recover both the physical and health losses? Even is your are over 60?

Mar. 07 2014 01:39 PM

What about sitting while riding a bicycle

Mar. 07 2014 01:39 PM

What about sitting while riding a bicycle

Mar. 07 2014 01:39 PM
lesterine from manhattan

this is all great to know, but what are we supposed to do about it when we have to work and sit all day?
this is very discouraging information without any indication that there are viable alternatives other than standing at one's desk as opposed to sitting.

Mar. 07 2014 01:39 PM
Ken from Nj

What if a condition prohibits standing?

Mar. 07 2014 01:39 PM

Hey! But what about "Sit"ing "For Life," touted by one of WNYC's promoters?

Mar. 07 2014 01:38 PM
Laura from UWS

Great segment!
For further info and help, I warmly recommend The New York Committee on Occupational Safety and Health (NYOSH) at for this and related topics like carpal tunnel syndrome, 'crackberry thumb' and more.

Mar. 07 2014 01:37 PM
Tom Artin from Rockland County

Question: Are the old-fashioned standing desks better for you, if you have to work at a desk?

Mar. 07 2014 01:36 PM
Joanne from Pelham, NY

Do the guests have recommendations for treadmill desks?

Mar. 07 2014 01:35 PM
Dianne from New Jersey

Hi Leonard and Dr. Stokes: I have been standing at work for about a year now instead of sitting at my desk, due to pain in the hip that would move into the groin and lower back. But standing all day is difficult. Any tips on how to make standing an easier experience? - Dianne

Mar. 07 2014 01:35 PM
David from upper west side

I hold what you say dear and have been trying to internalize these things in my daily life - i write this right now at my standing desk. Do you also recommend walking desks ( ie those with a treadmill attached?) And if you want tv while standing or at the gym, does that ameliorate things? Also, I have heard that even if you exrecise daily, you lose all of that by sitting - so someone who gets up every 20 minutes but never exercises is in better shape than someone who exercises but doesnt get up for long periods of time?

Mar. 07 2014 01:34 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

I do yoga headstands for a minutes every evening. I think it's good for the brain and the internal organs to be upside down a few moments a day.

Mar. 07 2014 01:34 PM
Herman from BRONX

Since humans INITIALLY evolved to STAND, are we now evolving to SIT?

Mar. 07 2014 01:33 PM
Frank from Brooklyn

Question- in some Asian cultures, such as India and Japan, sitting on the floor is more common than sitting in chairs- is this better for your back than sitting in chairs? Obviously doesn't replace standing and moving, but better?

Mar. 07 2014 01:33 PM

Literally chained to their computers? Please!

Mar. 07 2014 01:33 PM

Way to go Leonard! Let's hear it for laying down to watch TV.

But it makes it so much harder to drink . . .

(lots of pillows and bendy straws??)

Mar. 07 2014 01:29 PM

So many of our workspaces are set up for sitting. How about raising the desks/work-counters so we can do the work on our feet? A counter slightly higher than normal kitchen counters is the ideal work region for me.

Mar. 07 2014 01:29 PM
Betsy from Brooklyn

I bartend 4-5 days a week for 8 hours at a time. I like sitting during my time off but use the elliptical twice a week and do yoga 2-3 times a week plus run errands by foot. Is the time I spend reading and using the computer and watching TV still bad for me?

Mar. 07 2014 01:28 PM
Deb from CT

I've been walking down and then running up 36 steps once every hour while at work. (I'm on the second floor) Will this help at all? It gets my heart going for a bit when I sit down. Also inspires my coworkers.

Mar. 07 2014 01:28 PM
Rick from NYC

If SITTING, and those who mostly sit for a living, is BAD for you, does it follow that those who STAND, mostly for a living (line cooks, traffic cops, etc.), are HEALTHIER? Thanks!

Mar. 07 2014 01:23 PM
Esther from Bergen County

Either I sit at the wheel or at the desk on the job. In the car I try to do isometrics for the muscles not engaged in driving. In the office, of a timer rings every 20 minutes so I get up and jog in place do wall push ups, squats, lunges or run from the 3rd to the 8th floor and back. If I don't set the barking dog on the app--I sit for 7.5 hours.I've been doing this for 5 weeks. I don't see much muscle development. Is this program helpful or am I deluding myself?

Mar. 07 2014 11:06 AM
Estelle from Brooklyn

I do a lot of sitting, but I'm restless so I stand up and walk every few minutes. Does that help offset the long sitting times?

Mar. 07 2014 10:53 AM
Emily from Portland, Oregon

Hi Leonard and Doctors Levine and Stokes,

I run for an hour at lunch and then again for another hour after work in the evening. What bothers me is I have your stereotypical office job, thus spend all the other hours sitting at my desk. Is it possible that I'll still be plagued with the perils of a sedentary life even though I run over two hours a day?

Love your show, Leonard.


Mar. 07 2014 09:06 AM
Sarah in Brooklyn

I hope that sitting on my bike (while riding it...) doesn't count?! Please confirm!

Mar. 07 2014 07:56 AM
Dr A E Oates The Weight Issue from UK

Dr Levine's own experiments indicate that obese people spend more time sitting down than lean people - an extra 2.5 hours a day - and if lean people put on weight by eating more, they spend more time sitting down.Which implies that either more time spent walking could help with a weight problem, or that larger people move less. In any case making blanket generalisations about the level of exercise people need to do has been found to be ineffective, and the best way forward is the individual approach. For more information on the medical evidence about exercise and weight see

Mar. 07 2014 03:40 AM

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