Ask The Doctor

Sedentary Behavior Has Harmful Effects

Dear Dr. Garner,

I am an avid exerciser who runs at least 30 minutes everyday. My weight and blood pressure are normal. My problem is that I have a desk job that keeps me sitting down all day, five days a week.

What am I supposed to do?

As long as I am exercising, shouldn’t that be enough to keep me healthy in the long run?

Sitting too much in

Sheepshead Bay


Dear Sitting too much,

The question you pose regarding sitting is an important one. Sitting is not only bad for your health but also decreases your life expectancy.

To answer your first question, exercise does not undo the harmful effects of long periods of sitting. I urge you to continue working out as there are many health benefits. Sedentary behavior can be deadly.

Consider this: Smoking reduces a person’s life expectancy by about two-and-a-half years. Prolonged sitting reduces life expectancy by about two years. There is not much difference in those time frames.

Increased Risks

When you sit for a long time, the blood flow to your legs diminishes, and harmful chemicals are produced. When you sit longer than six hours, the risk of blood clots occurs. Over time, it can lead to obesity, kidney disease, heart disease, cancer and mental problems.

There is no doubt that depression is associated with extensive sitting and a sedentary lifestyle.

Sedentary people may develop what is known as metabolic syndrome. This is a group of conditions including diabetes, high blood pressure and abnormal levels of cholesterol. It can lead to many deadly conditions and eventually death.

People who sit more than 11 hours a day have a 40 percent increased risk of dying from all causes compared with those who sit less.

Bad effects from prolonged sitting are also caused by difficulty in digesting or metabolizing food. With prolonged sitting, there is increased fat and insulin, which leads to unhealthy changes in the body. Accumulation of fat also occurs in the organs, which can be deadly.

People who watch TV more than four hours a day have a 50 percent increased risk of death from any cause, and 125 percent increased risk of death from heart attack.

Suggestions for Activity

You do not have to take this sitting down (Sorry for the pun, I couldn’t resist). There are ways to overcome the sitting problem. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Schedule (walking) meetings so people can discuss issues while walking around the block.
  2. Enforce the rule that people must stand when on the phone.
  3. Use workstations or keyboards that require standing. Even standing a minute or two an hour can make a difference. Keep moving while at the desk. Even fidgety movements seem to help the body deal with prolonged sitting.
  4. Always take the stairs.
  5. Don’t call people within the office. Walk over to the person’s desk if you have to ask a question.

I hope that the readers appreciate just how harmful sitting for a long period of time can be.

I would like to hear your suggestions on how to keep active at work and cut down on sitting. The challenge is to find a way to avoid sitting at a typical desk job.

Good luck and continue to stay active.

Dr. Garner is a Fidelis Care provider who is affiliated with New York Methodist Hospital, Park Slope. He also hosts “Ask the Doctor” on NET-TV, Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on Time Warner Channel 97 and Cablevision Channel 30.

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