Sitting disease is the new health hazard

sitting at computerSedentary behavior is the new norm as most jobs do not require active movement. Sitting in a car instead of walking, standing on the escalator instead of walking up the stairs, using an electric mixer instead of whipping the eggs by hand, sending a text instead of getting up and talking to a co-worker in the next cubicle, buying online instead of walking to the brick and mortar store, watching TV shows, streaming movies, or playing computer games instead of socializing with actual friends, are all examples how the technological revolution has transformed our lives. The result is sitting disease which we belief can mitigate by daily exercise.

The research data is very clear– exercise does not totally reverse the health risks of sitting. In the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study, researchers Matthews and colleagues (Matthews et al, 2012) completed an 8.5 year follow up on 240,819 adults (aged 50–71 year) who at the beginning baseline surveys did not report any cancer, cardiovascular disease, or respiratory disease.

The 8.5 year outcome data showed that the time spent in sedentary behaviors such as sitting and watching TV was positively correlated with an increased illness and death rates as shown in Figure 1. More disturbing, moderate vigorous exercises does not totally reverse the health risks of sitting and watching television (Matthews et al, 2012).  

mortality and sitting

Figure 1. The more you sit the higher the risk of mortality even if you if you attempt to mitigate the effect with moderate vigorous exercise (Matthews et al, 2012). From:

The harmful impact of sedentary behavior and simple ways to improve health have been superbly described and illustrated by Bonnie Berkowitz and Patterson Clark (2014), in their January 20, 2014, Washington Post article, The health hazards of sitting,  Their one page poster should be posted on the office walls and given to all clients.

As they point out, sitting disease increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes, colon cancer, muscle degeneration especially weaker abdominal muscles and gluteus muscles, back pain and reduced hip flexibility, poor circulation in the legs which may cause edema in the ankles and deep vein thrombosis, osteoporosis, strained neck, shoulder and back pain. The effects are not only physical. Sitting reduces subjective energy level and attention as our brain becomes more and more sleepy.

The solution is both very simple and challenging. To reduce the risks, do less sedentary behavior and sitting and do more physical movement during the day.  Continuously interrupt sitting with standing and movement.  After sitting at the computer for 30 minutes, get up and move.  Even skipping in place for 30 seconds, significantly will increase your energy and mood (Peper and Lin, 2012).  There are many ways to remind and support yourself and others to move.  For example, use reminder programs on the computer such as StretchBreakTM  to remind you to get up and stretch. Employees who do episode movements, report fewer symptoms and have more energy (Peper & Harvey, 2008).  As one of the employees state after implementing the break program, “There is life after five.” Meaning he was no longer exhausted when he finished work.

Although challenging, wean  yourself away from the addicting digital screen and being a couch potato at home.  At those moments when you feel drained and all you want to do is veg out by watching another TV series, go for a walk.  After walking for 20 minutes, in most cases your energy will have returned and your low mood has been transformed to see new positive option.  Plan the walks with neighbors and friends who provide the motivation to pull you out of your funk and go out.




Berkowitz, B. & Clark, P. (Jan 20, 2014). The health hazard of sitting. The Washington Post. Retrieved July 29, 2017.

Matthews, C. E., George, S. M., Moore, S. C., Bowles, H. R., Blair, A., Park, Y., … Schatzkin, A. (2012). Amount of time spent in sedentary behaviors and cause-specific mortality in US adults. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition95(2), 437–445.

Peper, E. & Lin, I-M. (2012). Increase or decrease depression-How body postures influence your energy level.  Biofeedback, 40 (3), 126-130.

Peper, E. & Harvey, R. (2008). From technostress to technohealth.  Japanese Journal of Biofeedback Research, 35(2), 107-114.


Exercise:  Improve your health, mood, and cognitive function

Through millions of years, movement was part of our biological necessity..  Movement was necessary to hunt, to escape predators, to explore and to find a mate. Organisms developed a brain (nervous system) to coordinate movement as eloquently explain by neuroscientist Daniel Wolpert in his 2011 TED talk, The Real Reasons for Brains.

It is only recently that we limit movement by sitting, driving, taking the escalator, or controlling equipment that performs the actual physical labor. We interfere with our evolutionary developed physiology when we reduce or even eliminate movement for the sake of efficiency. Lack of movement, “sitting disease”, is a significant contributor and causal factor in illness. It also increases the stress response, negative mood and depression and reduces cognitive activity. Take charge and reduce illness when you integrate purposeful exercise (walking, running, dancing, etc.) into your life style.

we fucked up

Exercise is the most effective behavioral technique for self-regulation of mood in healthy people as summarized in the superb article, The Effects of Acute Exercise on Mood, Cognition, Neurophysiology, and Neurochemical Pathways: A Review, Dr. Julia C. Basso and Wendy A. Suzuki of the  Center for Neural Science, New York University, New York, NY, USA.  The robust research findings show that acute exercise improves mood, significantly reduces depression, tension, anger, fatigue, and confusion.  In addition, acute exercise improves symptoms associated with psychological disorders such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and post-traumatic stress disorder.  Exercise decreases the risk of type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease and stress-related blood pressure response by inhibiting the sympathetic nervous system response to stress. For a detailed summary, see the blogs, What is the best single thing we can do for our health and Healthy movement is the new aging.

Finally, the authors also review the relevant neurophysiological, and neurochemical processes that are affected by exercise. What is most interesting are the findings that “acute exercise primarily enhances executive functions dependent on the prefrontal cortex including attention, working memory, problem solving, cognitive flexibility, verbal fluency, decision making, and inhibitory control. These positive changes have been demonstrated to occur with very low to very high exercise intensities, with effects lasting for up to two hours after the end of the exercise bout.”

As the authors state, “We show that the three most consistent cognitive/behavioral effects of a single bout of exercise in humans are improved executive functions, enhanced mood states, and decreased stress levels.”

Even though the findings are clear that movement/exercise is a powerful “drug” to improve our health, most health professionals focus on sitting treatment and prescribing pharmaceutical agents. Possibly, a treatment session should start with fun physical exercise and followed by therapy. Remember, if you feel blah, have lower energy, feel frustrated or irritated, get up and move.  Movement and exercise will change your mood. You will experience what Peper and Lin (2012), have shown that less than minute of skipping in place will significantly improve your subjective energy level and mood. Get up and skip in place, then observe how much better you feel. Then sit again read the article by Dr. Julia C. Basso and Wendy A. Suzuki,