Have the Dangers of Sitting Been Debunked?

Sit Stand Desk

Inc Magazine, Huffington Post, Forbes, and the Mayo Clinic, all reported that Sitting is the New Smoking and it felt like a scene from “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” We all knew that our sedentary lifestyles were bad for us, and finally someone pointed a finger and backed it up with data.

And then, a couple of months ago, a new study in the International Journal of Epidemiology came out stating sitting time was not associated with mortality risk.

Now, we are all left wondering what to believe – shall we plop on the couch or go out for a walk?

Mercola.com recently prolifically explored the concept and basically debunked the debunkers.

  • The participants in the study had a “higher than average daily activity” level, which could have counteracted their long periods of sitting
  • The study was observational, not controlled – a cohort study which relies on the participants’ reports and is known to be less reliable
  • The data was collected over a decade ago when eating habits were significantly better than they are today

Even given all of these factors, a statement by study author Melvyn Hillsdon of the University of Exeter, lays it out, “the problem lies in the absence of movement rather than the time spent sitting itself… Any stationary posture where energy expenditure is low may be detrimental to health, be it sitting or standing.”

Standing without moving may be as dangerous as sitting without moving

While the term “sitting” worked better for the sound bites (after all, we average 10 hours a day of sitting at work, at home, in the car, etc.), the truth is that it is a sedentary lifestyle that is the new smoking. Literally kicking the chair out from under us won’t benefit us much if we simply stand without moving instead of sitting without moving.


However, Dr. James Levine, author of the book Get Up!: Why Your Chair Is Killing You and What You Can Do About It explains that when office workers forego the office chair for a sit-stand desk, “they don’t stand still. A couple of things happen. The first thing that happens is, they generally move from leg to leg and generally change their body posture quite a lot.

That weight-bearing and adjustment of weight-bearing has a whole series of physiological benefits to the musculature, the balance in musculature, the visual cortex, the testicular system, and so on.” When he measured the effects of sit-stand desks, he reported that sedentary time was reduced by 3.2 hours per week.

With sit-stand desks, participants enjoyed “increased sense of well-being and energy, and decreased fatigue.”

When we’re sitting all day at our workstation, we tend to put off any movement that requires the transition of getting up.  When we’re at a sit-stand desk we’re already into the transition of movement.  This allows you to meet your work needs and meet your body needs more effectively.


For some people, standing is more painful than sitting. It may be due to a physical concern, illness, leg or knee aches or the type of task.

In summary, neither sitting or standing is optimal, but we need to figure out how to meet our work needs based on our body needs.  Anytime we add more movement whether it’s a sit stand desk, a scheduled time for sitting and standing, and breaks or walking to the printer several times a day, this is going to make a difference.

To give a bottom line answer to the question “have the dangers of sitting been debunked?” is this – they have not been debunked, they have just been better defined.


About Karen Burke

Karen is the founder and president of Kare Products, specializing in active ergonomic solutions. She has 30 years experience in ergonomic product design and consulting.