How much sitting time is too much?

Can prolonged sitting be almost as dangerous as smoking? According to a survey conducted over the years, the answer is yes —almost.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the right-wing bloc faction meeting at the Knesset (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the right-wing bloc faction meeting at the Knesset
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

The world outside is going crazy again. Worldwide, temperatures are soaring and breaking records, COVID-19 is back and in Israel, we have yet another election cycle. Thinking about all these things is mentally taxing, so after a long day at work (sitting!), we want to go home and lounge on the couch. 

Many studies have proven the detrimental health effects of a sedentary lifestyle. But how many hours of sitting is way too much?

A recent survey of more than 100,000 people living in 21 different countries showed that people who spent six to eight hours a day sitting were at an increased risk of 12 to 13% for heart disease and/or premature death. 

"Our study found that a combination of sitting and inactivity accounted for 8.8% of all deaths, which is close to the contribution of smoking."

Professor Scott Lear

Getting the chair

People who sit for more than eight hours a day increased their risk by 20%.

In collaboration with the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences of Beijing, Canadian research editors whose article was published in JAMA Cardiology followed study participants for an average of 11 years. Along the way, the team found a clear link between excessive sitting time to heart disease and mortality risk.

While researchers admit that sitting is a health problem in all countries, it’s especially problematic in low-income and low-to-medium income countries where workers may sit at machines for 12 or more hours/day and don’t exercise. 

 Head of the left wing Meretz party and Minister of Health Nitzan Horowitz, Minister of Environmental Protection Tamar Zandberg and MK Michal Rozin attend Meretz faction meeting at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on June 28, 2021. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) Head of the left wing Meretz party and Minister of Health Nitzan Horowitz, Minister of Environmental Protection Tamar Zandberg and MK Michal Rozin attend Meretz faction meeting at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on June 28, 2021. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

Taking a stand for health

"The overall message here is to minimize the time you sit," said Professor Scott Lear, research author and health science expert at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. "If you have to sit down, extra exercise at other times of the day will offset that risk."

The study suggests that the risk increases gradually as a person sits more often. The least active people who sat the most had the highest risk levels, up to 50%. In contrast, the most active participants enjoyed the lowest risk profiles (17%).

"For those who sit for more than four hours a day, replacing half an hour of sitting with exercise has reduced the risk by 2%," explained Lear. 

Regarding the stronger relationship in lower-income countries, the study authors argue that sitting all day in higher-income countries is generally associated with better-paid jobs and higher socio-economic status. 

More money and higher status means more resources to deal with personal health issues or allocate time for regular exercise.

In conclusion, researchers emphasize the importance of keeping active. 

"Our study found that a combination of sitting and inactivity accounted for 8.8% of all deaths, which is close to the contribution of smoking (10.6% in this study). It's a global problem that has an incredibly simple solution. Getting up from a chair is a great start," concluded Prof. Lear.