Sitting is the new smoking


It may sound like an exaggeration, but sitting down for extended periods of time kills you. Discover why sitting is a silent killer and how you can integrate more movement into your daily life.


We all know that smoking is bad for our health, but have you ever heard the saying, "sitting is the new smoking"? It may sound like an exaggeration, but sitting down for extended periods of time kills you. It's not a direct death. But, research shows sitting for a substantial portion of your waking day raises your risk of dying exponentially. In this blog, we will cover why sitting is a silent killer and discuss ways you can integrate more movement into your daily life.


According to the World Health Organisation physical inactivity is possibly the fourth biggest killer in the world! Even, Apple CEO Tim Cook used the mantra “Sitting is the new cancer” during 2015’s Apple Watch reveal. 

Many adults in the UK spend around 9 hours a day sitting. This includes sitting at a desk working, watching TV, reading, doing homework, travelling by car, bus or train but does not include sleeping. And, studies show that those who sit for more than eight hours a day with no physical activity have a risk of dying similar to that posed by obesity and smoking. 

For example, research has shown that sitting for prolonged periods of time increases the risk of:

higher blood pressure
heart disease
type 2 diabetes
some forms of cancer
poor posture
muscle degeneration
a decrease in bone density

Research also shows that men who sit 6+ hours per day are 18% more likely to die before people who sit less than 3 hours. When combined with a lack of physical activity, the association is even stronger. Men who both sit more and are less physically active are 48% more likely to die compared with those who reported sitting the least and being most active.


Any extended sitting — such as at a desk, behind a wheel or in front of a screen — is harmful. Here’s what happens when you sit for extended periods:

Your calorie-burning rate immediately plunges to about one per minute, a third of what it would be if you got up and walked. Over time, this can lead to weight gain and even obesity.

You may develop insulin resistance, which can eventually lead to type 2 diabetes and obesity—2 major risk factors for heart disease.  In one study that looked at the effects of just five days of bed rest, researchers saw increased insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes.

Your blood flow slows down and your muscles are not being used.  This can allow fatty acids to build up in the blood vessels and can lead to increased risk of heart disease. In fact, studies have shown that sitting for more than eight hours a day can increase the risk of heart disease by up to 147%.

Your body’s ability to process fats is slowed. When you sit, your body’s production of lipoprotein lipase (an enzyme essential for breaking down fat) drops by about 90%.  When your body cannot break down fat, it is stored instead.

You are at a higher risk of developing musculoskeletal problems such as back and neck pain. That’s because too much sitting, while it may be relaxing, puts stress on the joints, muscles and discs of your back and neck. The longer you are seated, the more likely you are to slide into a poor posture and begin slouching. Slouching can put even more strain on the discs in your spine and result in a bulging disc in your spine, most commonly your lower back.  

Furthermore, sitting for prolonged periods can also have an impact on our mental health. A study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that people who sat for more than seven hours a day had a 47% higher risk of depression than those who sat for less than four hours a day.


Life is busy. Physical activity can be hard to fit it in. Here are some ideas to help:

Take breaks: Take regular breaks throughout the day to rest your eyes and give your brain a break. This can help improve your productivity and focus. For example, drink so much water you must go to the loo regularly, walk while you talk on the phone or take the dog for a walk.

Man walking while talking on phone

Invest in an adjustable-height desk: If you have a desk-based job, consider buying (or asking your boss for) a sit-stand desk to spend part of your day standing up while you work, which can help improve your posture and increase your calorie burn. In fact, a 2019 review of 53 studies published in Applied Ergonomics concluded sit-stand desks are successful at changing behaviour—i.e. getting sitters to stand more—and easing lower back and shoulder and neck discomfort.

Take the stairs: Instead of taking the elevator, take the stairs. This is an easy way to get some exercise in and get your heart rate up.

Main taking the stairs 

Stand up and move around: If you have an Apple Watch it will remind you to stand up ten minutes before the hour. Of course, you don’t need an expensive smartwatch to tackle this problem, you can set an alarm on your phone or computer to remind you to stand up and move around every 60 minutes. Take a quick walk around your office/home or do some stretches to get your blood flowing.

Exercise regularly: Make sure to get regular exercise…if you live close enough to work, consider walking or cycling instead of driving. This is a great way to get some exercise in and start your day off on the right foot.

Man walking with Bike


According to the NHS, the average Brit walks between 3,000 and 4,000 steps a day. If you increase how much you walk, you decrease the risk of obesity, heart disease, cancers and more. If you consider 4,000 steps as a baseline of activity, a 2020 study shows that when you increase your steps to 8,000 you decrease the risk of death from all causes by 51%. At 12,000 steps per day, it increases to a 65% reduction.

Engaging in regular physical activity builds muscle strength and endurance. It may also play a role in preventing a number of chronic conditions, such as:

coronary heart disease

type 2 diabetes


high blood pressure


high cholesterol



alzheimer’s disease

Walking poses little risk of injury compared with other, high impact forms of activity, such as intense sports.

Also, in most cases, walking does not require special equipment or clothing to engage in.

It's not only about what walking prevents. It's also about the benefits of a walk:

Lower Anxiety and Stress

Improved Sleep

Better Circulation

Lower Blood Pressure

Improved Creativity

Increased Energy

Decreased Risk of Disease

Increased Lung Capacity

Lower Cholesterol

Faster Digestion

Stronger Bones

Better Balance and Coordination

Less Joint Pain

Reduced Dementia Risk

Better Brain Function


Brain after sitting for 20 minutes vs Brain after walking for 20 minutes

The Bottom Line: A Walk is Good for YOU and it also makes sense to buy a fitness tracker like a Fitbit or a smartwatch to monitor your step count.

So, take a look at the hours in your day.  How many of them are spent in a chair?  Honestly.  While sitting at your desk might not be the equivalent of hanging out in the smokers’ lounge, it could very well yield the same results. The good news is that there are simple steps you can take to mitigate the consequences. 

Built to Move

By standing up and moving around regularly, taking the stairs, using a standing desk, walking or biking to work, exercising regularly, and taking breaks, you can significantly reduce your risk of obesity, heart disease, and other health problems associated with a sedentary lifestyle. For extra intuitive ways to integrate more movement into your daily life and escape sedentary habits check out the book Built to Move: The Ten Essential Habits to Help You Move Freely and Live Fully”. 


Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care.

Published: 25th April 2023