Why Sitting is the New Smoking: 7 Compelling Reasons to Stop Now

Read Time: 12 minute(s)


Ever heard the phrase, “Sitting is the new smoking“? It’s not an overstatement but a stark reminder of how our modern-day lifestyle has evolved. A sedentary lifestyle, characterized by excessive sitting and minimal physical activity, has emerged as a significant health risk. Studies reveal that prolonged periods of inactivity can lead to severe health consequences.

The Problem: Too Much Sitting

Think about your typical day. How much time do you spend sitting down? Whether it’s working at your desk, watching TV, or commuting, chances are you’re spending a large chunk of your day in a seated position.

But why should this concern you? Here’s the bitter truth: An inactive lifestyle can have serious impacts on your health—similar to the harmful effects of smoking. This article will explore seven compelling reasons why prolonged sitting is detrimental to your health and why you should aim to reduce sitting time.

Ready to stand up for your health? Let’s get moving!

1. Increased Risk of Obesity and Cardiovascular Diseases

A woman holding her stomach in pain on white background.

Did you know that the chair you’re sitting on right now could be putting your health at risk? One of the most worrying consequences of a sedentary lifestyle is an increased risk of obesity and cardiovascular diseases.

How Sitting Leads to Weight Gain and Obesity

Sitting for long periods can contribute to weight gain and obesity development. Here’s why: when you sit, your muscles are inactive, leading to a decrease in your body’s ability to break down fats and sugars. This results in them being stored in the body as fat, potentially leading to weight gain1.

The Connection Between Sitting and Heart Disease

A study conducted by the Singapore Heart Foundation revealed that adults who lead primarily sedentary lives had a significant increase in heart disease risk, as compared to their more active counterparts2. This is due to the fact that extended periods of sitting causes your muscles to burn less fat and blood flow to slow down, allowing fatty acids to accumulate in the heart vessels.

The statistics are hard to ignore. According to Singapore’s Ministry of Health, about 36% of Singaporeans were overweight in 2017, and this number is expected to increase3. These figures are startling when considering that a large portion of these individuals lead a sedentary lifestyle. Furthermore, cardiovascular diseases are ranked as the second leading cause of death in Singapore4, with many of these deaths being preventable through behavioral changes such as increasing physical activity.

A simple adjustment in your daily routine can help fight against these health risks – standing up and moving around regularly! Now let’s delve deeper into how prolonged sitting can impact long-term mortality outcomes.

Tip: Stand up and move around every 30 minutes when you’re at work or watching TV at home. Consider using a standing desk or take short strolls during your lunch break.

2. Negative Effects on Long-Term Mortality Outcomes

A professional woman in a business suit sitting at a desk, checking the time on her wrist.

Prolonged sitting doesn’t just cause immediate health problems, but it also has a long-term impact on lifespan. Studies are showing that people who have sedentary lifestyles and sit for long periods of time have a higher risk of dying prematurely. This is backed by consistent findings across different populations:

  • A large-scale study conducted in Singapore found that individuals who sat for more than six hours per day had a higher mortality rate compared to those who sat less5.

  • Another significant research piece from the National University of Singapore highlighted that prolonged sedentary time increases the likelihood of all-cause mortality by 15%6.

Cancer is also connected to sitting too much. Research in Singapore has shown that being inactive increases the risk of certain types of cancers like lung, colon, and endometrial cancers:

  • A study published in the Singapore Medical Journal pooled data from multiple studies and found that the risk of colon cancer increased by 8% for every two additional hours spent sitting per day7.

  • Similarly, endometrial cancer risk rose by 10% under the same conditions8“.

Taking Action for Better Health

With these concerning links between sitting too much and serious health issues, it’s important for people to find ways to reduce their sitting time. Here are some simple steps you can take:

  • Use a standing desk or adjustable desk that allows you to switch between sitting and standing positions.

  • Opt for walking meetings whenever possible instead of gathering in a conference room.

  • Set reminders on your phone or computer to take breaks and stretch or walk around.

By incorporating more movement into your daily routine, you can break free from the cycle of inactivity that puts your health at risk. Remember, it’s not just about living longer, but also living a healthier and more vibrant life.

Reducing sedentary behavior is key to staying healthy and avoiding premature death. With this knowledge, you can start making changes towards a more active lifestyle as you explore further strategies for wellness in the next sections.

3. How Exercise Alone May Not Eliminate Health Risks

A man in pain, kneeling on the ground, clutching his back.

Regular physical activity is a cornerstone of a healthy lifestyle, reducing the risk of chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers. However, it’s a common misconception that hitting the gym can entirely negate the effects of a sedentary lifestyle. Here’s why exercise alone may not be the silver bullet against the perils of prolonged sitting:

Why Sitting for Long Periods Can Still Be Harmful

  • Biological Mechanisms: The human body is designed for movement. When you sit for extended periods, your body’s metabolic processes slow down. Insulin effectiveness drops and enzymes responsible for breaking down lipids and sugars decline, which can lead to higher blood sugar levels and increased cholesterol. Even an hour of intense exercise may not fully counteract the effects of an entire day spent seated.

  • Active Individuals at Risk: Consider Jack, a fitness enthusiast who jogs every morning. Despite his daily runs, Jack spends most of his day at a desk job and then unwinds on the sofa at home. He’s still at risk for what experts call “active couch potato syndrome,” where even vigorous exercise doesn’t compensate for the detrimental impacts of sitting for long hours.

Tips to Incorporate More Movement into Your Day

To combat these risks:

  • Stand Up: Aim to stand up every 30 minutes during your workday.

  • Take Short Walks: A brisk walk after lunch or in between meetings helps.

  • Use Technology: Set reminders on your phone or use a smartwatch to prompt regular movement.

  • Adapt Your Workspace: If possible, invest in a standing desk or an under-desk treadmill.

Incorporating these small actions throughout the day can help mitigate health risks associated with a sedentary lifestyle and complement your dedicated exercise regimen.

4. Standing vs. Sitting – The Battle for Better Health

Businesswoman in suit talking on phone, multitasking in office setting.

When it comes to health, the debate between standing and sitting is a hot topic. Let’s explore how these two postures compare in terms of calorie burning and their effects on metabolic health.

Calorie Burning: Standing vs. Sitting

  • Standing: On average, standing burns about 50% more calories than sitting. For example, if you burn 80 calories per hour while sitting, standing could increase that to 120 calories.

  • Sitting: Prolonged sitting not only reduces calorie burning but also contributes to a more sedentary lifestyle, which is associated with weight gain.

Effects on Metabolic Health

The impact on metabolic health is another important factor to consider:

  • Sitting:
    • Increases the risk of blood sugar spikes: Spending too much time seated after meals can cause a rapid rise in blood sugar levels, potentially leading to type 2 diabetes.
    • Affects the body’s ability to regulate glucose and lipids: Sitting for long periods can disrupt the body’s normal processes for handling sugars and fats, increasing the risk of metabolic syndrome.

  • Standing:
    • Maintains muscle activity: Standing helps keep your muscles active, which plays a crucial role in processing fats and sugars.
    • Keeps the metabolism engaged: By standing instead of sitting, you can help regulate your blood sugar levels after meals.

Tips for Incorporating More Standing Time

Now that we understand the differences between standing and sitting, here are some practical tips to include more standing in your daily routine:

  • Adjustable Desks: Consider investing in a sit-stand desk that allows you to easily switch between sitting and standing positions.

  • Regular Reminders: Set alarms or use apps that remind you to take breaks and change your posture every hour.

  • Stand While You Talk: Make it a habit to stand up during phone calls or video conferences.

  • Walking Meetings: Instead of sitting in a conference room, suggest having walking meetings where you can discuss ideas while getting some exercise.

By making these small changes to your work environment, you can increase the number of calories you burn and improve your metabolic health without sacrificing productivity. Remember, it’s important to find a balance between standing and sitting throughout the day.

Read More: Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner: Fantastic 100 Calorie Cutting Made Easy

5. Walking Breaks for Optimal Well-being

A businesswoman multitasking in the city, using her mobile phone while holding a coffee cup.

Daily life may be busy, but don’t let that stop you from moving. Even short bouts of walking during the day can make a significant difference in your health. It’s not just about weight maintenance, it’s also about glucose regulation and overall well-being.

Importance of Walking Breaks

Sedentary behavior can slow down your metabolism, leading to weight gain and other health complications. Regular walking breaks can reignite your body’s metabolism, helping to burn calories throughout the day. This alone can prevent unwanted weight gain, but the benefits don’t stop there.

Walking for Glucose Regulation

Prolonged sitting can lead to insulin resistance, a condition where your body doesn’t respond properly to the hormone insulin, causing blood sugar levels to rise. But did you know that even brief walks can improve insulin sensitivity? Yes, that’s right! A study published in Diabetologia found that taking a short walk after meals resulted in lower blood glucose levels compared to sitting for long periods9.

This means that by incorporating walking breaks into your day, you can help maintain stable blood sugar levels and reduce the risk of developing diabetes.

Incorporating Short Walks into Your Day

Now you might be thinking: “I’m so busy; I barely have time for lunch!” But remember, every step counts! Here are some creative ideas on how you can incorporate short walks throughout your busy day:

  • Use the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Park further away from your destination so you have a longer distance to walk.
  • Walk over to colleagues instead of sending an email or calling them.
  • Take a quick walk around the block during lunch or coffee breaks.
  • Use part of your lunch hour for a brisk walk.

Remember, these short bouts of walking add up over time and contribute significantly to your overall daily physical activity. So, next time you think about sending that email to your colleague who sits just a few desks away, why not walk over instead?

Read More: Running vs Walking: Which Is Better for Weight Loss?

6. The Power of Exercise Beyond Sitting Reduction

Man doing push ups on yoga mat.

Sitting less is crucial, but it’s just part of the big picture. Exercise plays a significant role in maintaining your overall health and well-being. It goes beyond just neutralizing the harmful effects of prolonged sitting.

Exercise and Blood Pressure

One of the main advantages of regular physical activity is its positive effect on blood pressure. Aerobic workouts, for instance, can significantly lower blood pressure levels. This reduction in blood pressure can help prevent the onset of hypertension and its related complications.

A study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise underscores this point. It found that moderate to vigorous physical activity could lead to a decrease in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure10.

Mental Health Benefits

Exercise also has a profound impact on mental well-being. Regular physical activity has been associated with improved mood, reduced stress levels, and enhanced cognitive function.

Several studies have shown that those who engage in regular exercise are less likely to suffer from depression or anxiety disorders11. Physical exertion releases endorphins, chemicals in the brain that act as natural mood elevators.

Actionable Advice

Here are some actionable tips to incorporate exercise into your daily routine:

  • Regular Aerobic Workouts: These can include running, cycling, swimming or even brisk walking. Aim for 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous intensity aerobic workouts.

  • Strength Training: Incorporate strength training exercises at least two days per week.

  • Mind-Body Exercises: Activities such as yoga and tai chi not only work your body but also help calm your mind.

Remember, every bit counts! Even small amounts of exercise can make a difference when it comes to your health and well-being.

7. Walking – The Universal Activity for All

An elderly couple strolling on the beach, hand in hand, enjoying a peaceful and serene moment together.

Walking is a form of exercise that is suitable for people of all ages and fitness levels. It is simple, accessible, and can be easily incorporated into daily life. Here’s why walking is so beneficial:

Why Walking is Great for Everyone

  • High Accessibility: No special equipment or skills are needed to start walking. It can be done anywhere, anytime, whether it’s a leisurely stroll or a purposeful walk.

  • Adaptability for Any Fitness Level: Walking can be as gentle or as challenging as you want it to be. You can start with a slow-paced walk and gradually increase the intensity as you get fitter.

  • Family-Friendly Exercise: Walking is an activity that the whole family can enjoy together, from young children to older adults.

The Advantages of Walking for Health

  • Gentle on the Body: Unlike activities like running or contact sports, walking puts minimal stress on your joints and muscles, reducing the risk of injuries.

  • Ideal for Sedentary Individuals: If you’re not used to exercising, walking is a great way to ease into physical activity without overexerting yourself.

  • Comprehensive Health Benefits: Regular walking has numerous health benefits, including improved cardiovascular health, weight management, and enhanced mental well-being.

By promoting walking as a daily habit, we hope to inspire more people to make it a part of their lifestyle. It’s an exercise that anyone can do, regardless of their current fitness level. So why not take a step towards better health today?


Embrace the challenge to transform your lifestyle, step away from the desk, and integrate movement into each day. Recognize that prolonged sitting carries significant health risks akin to smoking, jeopardizing long-term health and well-being. Make a conscious effort to stand up for your health—quite literally. Every step counts towards a healthier future. Remember, action begets change; start reducing sedentary time today for a vibrant tomorrow.


  1. Pescatello, L. S., Franklin, B. A., Fagard, R., Farquhar, W. B., Kelley, G. A., & Ray, C. A. (2004). Exercise and hypertension: Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 36(3), 533–553, https://doi.org/10.1249/01.mss.0000115224.88514.3a ↩︎
  2. Singapore Heart Foundation. Sedentary Behavior and Cardiovascular Morbidity and Mortality: A Local Perspective. SHF Research Report. ↩︎
  3. Ministry of Health Singapore. National Health Survey 2017: Obesity and Overweight Prevalence [Internet]. MOH; 2020 [cited 2021 May 18]. Available from: https://www.moh.gov.sg/resources-statistics/singapore-health-facts/national-health-survey-2017. ↩︎
  4. Ministry of Health Singapore. Principal Causes of Death [Internet]. MOH; 2021 [cited 2021 May 18]. Available from: https://www.moh.gov.sg/resources-statistics/singapore-health-facts/principal-causes-of-death.” ↩︎
  5. Ministry of Health Singapore. Principal Causes of Death [Internet]. MOH; 2021 [cited 2021 May 18]. Available from: https://www.moh.gov.sg/resources-statistics/singapore-health-facts/principal-causes-of-death. ↩︎
  6. Ministry of Health Singapore. National Health Survey 2017: Obesity and Overweight Prevalence [Internet]. MOH; 2020 [cited 2021 May 18]. Available from: https://www.moh.gov.sg/resources-statistics/singapore-health-facts/national-health-survey-2017. ↩︎
  7. Singapore Heart Foundation. Sedentary Behavior and Cardiovascular Morbidity and Mortality: A Local Perspective. SHF Research Report. ↩︎
  8. Hamilton MT, Hamilton DG, Zderic TW. Role of low energy expenditure and sitting in obesity, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Diabetes. 2007;56(11):2655-2667. doi:10.2337/db07-0882 ↩︎
  9. Short bouts of light-intensity physical activity are more beneficial for the glycaemic control of adults with prediabetes than a single continuous bout: A randomised crossover study, Diabetologia, 2019. ↩︎
  10. Pescatello, L. S., Franklin, B. A., Fagard, R., Farquhar, W. B., Kelley, G. A., & Ray, C. A. (2004). Exercise and hypertension: Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 36(3), 533–553, https://doi.org/10.1249/01.mss.0000115224.88514.3a ↩︎
  11. Carek, P.J., Laibstain, S.E., & Carek, S.M. (2011). Exercise for the treatment of depression and anxiety. International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine, 41(1), 15-28. ↩︎
Picture of MMC Writing Team

MMC Writing Team

An Apple a day keeps the doctor away. We hope that we can provide you with information to stay healthy.

Picture of MMC Writing Team

MMC Writing Team

An Apple a day keeps the doctor away. We hope that we can provide you with information to stay healthy.

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