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Exercise Might Not Help If You’re Generally a Couch Potato

By , SparkPeople Blogger
We often hear about the benefits of exercise, how it will improve your quality of life and help you live longer. It’s easy to assume that people who train for marathons or bike 10 miles to work each day would be the pillar of good health. Although exercise is key, how you spend the other 23 hours a day is just as important. Need another reason to lead an active life that doesn’t involve being a couch potato? A new study says that if you spend a lot of the day sitting, you have an increased risk of mortality regardless of how much you exercise.

Researchers at the American Cancer Society analyzed survey responses from over 123,000 men and women. The results are published in the American Journal of Epidemiology. Participants had no history of major health issues and were studied over a 13-year period. According to the results, women were more affected by leisure time sitting than men. “Women who reported more than six hours per day of sitting (outside of work) were 37 percent more likely to die during the time period studied than those who sat fewer than three hours a day. Men who sat more than six hours a day (also outside of work) were 18 percent more likely to die than those who sat fewer than three hours per day. The association remained virtually unchanged after adjusting for physical activity level.”

“Women and men who both sat more and were less physically active were 94 percent and 48 percent more likely to die during the study period, respectively, compared with those who reported sitting the least and being most active,” according to researchers. Obviously, the worst thing for your health is to sit a lot and not exercise.

My friends and family like to joke that I never sit down. I’m not someone who can sit in a restaurant and chat for hours after the meal is over. I’m not good at vegging out in front of the T.V. It makes me too nervous, feeling like I should be doing something instead of just hanging out. I know I’m not someone who would be affected by the results of this study, but the way I live might not be particularly healthy either. I’m pretty sure balance is most important.

I’m not surprised that too much leisure-time sitting could be bad for your health. But I was surprised to learn that this could negate the positive effects that exercise provides.

What do you think? Do you spend a lot of time sitting outside of work and exercise?

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You do need balance. I hate sitting still but can do so for a good book sometimes. Otherwise, I'm moving constantly and the more I'm active the more I WANT to be active. Regular workouts have made my wanting to move a more constant thing than it ever was before and I've always been kind of an antsy person (I pace while waiting, I can't stand to wait and not move). Report
I'm so glad to read all of these comments for additional perspective. The article is a little discouraging given the number of hours I'm tied to my computer for work. However, I've been thinking about switching to a stand-up desk. I assume adding some stand-up time would help. Report
My first thought reading this article was...well, I guess I'm going to die early. But the comments of the other readers helped me to take it in stride. So the lesson is 'be active'. And I don't believe that the exercise I do when I'm not sitting isn't helping my health. Report
Here's the thing: Like so many commenters, I'm truly positively stuck to the chair as a programmer. But... the exercise I DO get makes me feel lots better now. And I guess I'd ask myself, "Could I be a bit more efficient with my emailing and continued computer stuff at home? Sure." But my exercise is not all for nothing. It makes my life nicer right now!

I'm definitely better off doing whatever I do manage to do, and I'm here to love and enjoy my life and my loved ones, do honorable work, and take care of myself best I can given my circumstances, with no promise of perfect circumstances or fairness from the world.

Whether I get 78 years or 87, it's all good. We had to know that our desk jobs were not doing our bods any good, but they are our circumstances and no call to feel shame or total discouragement. There will be other studies. I'm going to see about a standing desk, though... Report
This is an interesting article but somewhat fishy. I can understand that a sedentary lifestyle isn't good for your health and I believe that exercising benefits you no matter what you do during the next 23 hours of the day. I don't think that sitting for long periods of time will negate the exercise that you have done. Any exercise is good for you no matter what you do the rest of the day. Report
Like others, I see some flaws in this write-up.

As someone else said, your body doesn't know whether you're at work or not when you're sitting.

More importantly, the person who abstracted this study says that the relationship holds after adjusting for activity level. That means that activity level is taken OUT of the equation; it's mathematically adjusted so that it's NOT a factor. That's fine if you want to know the effects of sitting for hours independent of your activity level. However, if you're active AND you sit a long time, the conclusions here may be irrelevant. Depending on your level of exercise, it may be misleading to say that sitting negates the benefits you get from exercise.

Another objection: Everyone needs to sit--this piece gives no guidance as to what's too much and what's too little.

This is not the first time that a research-based feature here has oversimplified apparently misinterpreted the findings. There should be a follow-up so that those who were discouraged by this "news," get a more complete picture of the original results and conclusions of the investigators. Perhaps the research should be cited so that readers can search Pub Med to see for themselves. Report
This is a real concern for me. My job is sooo much sitting. I have to get a new job! Report
I hate hate hate sitting at work all day. I have to get up and walk around the office all the time, my coworkers think I'm nutty. Not an issue at home though, my 4 year old keeps me running :-) Report
You can't change over night. I started exercising 90 minutes every other day, on the days I don't work. On the days I work, I walk about 2 miles a day. That gives me Sunday off. When I get home at night I sit down and watch TV and get on my computer and Spark. I will eventually increase my exercise, but this is a lot for me right now. Report
Apparently, 1 hour of sitting correlates to an 11% increase of earlier death by ANY means. I am definitely not going to take this seriously. I doubt that there is an 11% increased chance that I'm going to get hit by lightning, or eaten by a shark if I watch an hour of television, or sit on the computer for that much time. Report
Thank you Basilic for the original reference. This article seems to be unbalanced, but I will accept the take home message that too much inactivity is not good for health. Report
I'm choosing to ignore this article. I work on average about 11 hours a day for my dad's artwork business from home and about 90% of that time I'm on my laptop. It's almost impossible to pace around holding a laptop and still be able to type and get things done lol. I would love to be a more active person and that's one of my goals here but the problem is finding the time.... Report
well i have to sit during lectures and when i revise at home...so that will be about 8hours a day!! but it isn't my fault!! Report
So, your body knows if you are sitting at home or at work? Ha ha what a crock. Sit in your office for 8 hours, A-okay. Sit at home for 8 hours, you die. I'm not buyin' it. Activity=time. Not a lot of us have a lot of time. We do our best and sometimes that means working at an office and working at home afterward. Report
This is fascinating. While I don't consider myself active because I don't participate in sports, or run, or anything like that outside of my daily workouts, my family keeps telling me to "sit down". I sometimes stand during conversations, or walk around while on the phone. Sounds like I'm doing something right! Report
wow! this is an interesting article, yes. we all tend to sit down a good portion of our days, so i wonder if we hardly ever, to rarely, sit down, would most of us be living well into our 100's?! is dat how they did live that many years & beyond in biblical history? hmm....i guess i better get up now! :-) Report
This article doesn't offend me and I AM a couch potato when I'm not training. I probably train as much as 10 hours a week doing triathlons and running races. With grown adult children, my activity level outside of exercise has really dropped. I work at a desk sitting all day, then when not training, am at the computer "sparking" and "facebooking" til the cows come home. My house could be cleaner....my dog cold be walked.

Thanks for the article. It made me think about what other things I can do to keep moving. :) Report
Listen, as far as I'm concerned, we all have to die someday. I do work out at least 3 times a week for a variety of reasons... I want to lose weight and keep it off, I want to feel better, I want to have more energy and be able to do more, I enjoy the feeling I get after a good workout, etc. I never honestly thought that it would help me live longer necessarily... but I do hope it will help the quality of life I live for as long as that will be. Report
i can see why alot of people are taking offense to this article. but my initial reaction was that weather or not this is actually true or not, it really got me thinking. i would think 'ok i did my 15 min of exercise, now i can sit and relax and not feel guilty that i didnt exercise today ' but it shouldnt be like that anyway, we should fill our days up with so many activities, live our lives, have fun and not take things so seriously. yes this article could have completely diminished my motivation but i decided to not let it. i read the article, exited out of the internet, got outside immediately and started moving! i took action and so can you. :) you can either live your life letting things discourage you or take offense to all kinds of different things, or you can use it as a tool to give you EVEN WAY MORE motivation than you had before and tell yourself ' no, this article isnt talking about me...ill make sure of it.' and then just do it. were capable of anyrhing and i mean ANYTHING we set our minds to.
I have heard it said that fidgeting is exercise! Report
Interesting article and comments. This didn't strike me as a depressing or negative blog in particular. However, studies are studies. This one with so many participants and so long a period (longitudinal) tend to be pretty valid, at least. Sometimes people can be alarmed at studies with very little reliability or few participants.

I have to think...sitting for 6 hours straight? No getting up to eat, go the the bathroom, stretch, get a glass of water? I tend to think no one really does this (not even couch potato hubby).

I guess I'll be dropping dead soon, then. =P

I do not have a job and cannot get one for the life of me. I spend 90% of my time sitting at home. This dinky apartment takes less than 45 minutes to clean and then what am I supposed to do? Sitting at the PC and writing for most of the day isn't that much different from someone who is a desk jockey.

Um...to the person who said that exercise is useless if you sit for more than 6 hours of your day...that is not true. I have lost 40 pounds from my highest weight by exercising 30 minutes a day, and sitting for almost the rest of it. What am I supposed to do? Stand up all day and pace the apartment? So anyone who has a 9 - 5 desk job is basically screwed? Way to kill a few spirits around here. Report
That explains why my husband (who NEVER sits still) has a 29 inch waist, and I'm struggling to keep my weight down. I guess I'll just have to imitate his constant fidgeting. Report
Wow, no wonder I,m not seeing much progress! I live in an apartment, not much room to move around, and I can,t exercise outside, too hot. I,ll just have to mov more!!! Report
I agree that the title is a bit of a downer, but the message that I got from it is that sitting still for long periods of time on a continual basis is hazardous to your health. The study's focus was on the detriment of being inactive for long periods of time. So if you sit for long periods of time at work, as I do, it's important to incorporate some physical activity throughout the day, even if it's stretching or take 5 minute walks every hour or two. I'm not saying I do it, but this is a good incentive for me to consider it. Report
I read an article awhile back that constant small motions kept weight at bay, I'm not sure about physical fitness. I've always been a "fidgeter", used to get bad grades about it in elementary school, but I've been at goal for a very long time, so maybe it helps. Report
I am a "career" couch potato! And I believe some information you can take with a grain of salt. However, since I have joined sparkpeople and I am change my current "couch" lifestyle, every bit of information helps. Nothing is written in stone. Studies come and go. I KNOW that I have to get off of the couch regardless to what any study says. We know what we need and what we should do......because we wouldn't be on sparkpeople! Maybe this article to movtivate everyone. So What! Trust me it motivated me! And I hope it gets to those who needs a little push off the couch! Report
I can't believe how negative people are being toward the author of this health article.

I do lead a fairly sedentary life mostly because my work has me at a computer all day. Then I sit in the car and drive 30 minutes each way- that puts me up to 10.5 hours of sitting. Then at home, I am on the go taking care of my two young children. It's a regular zoo until we get them to bed and then I get some alone time with my hubby and all he wants to do is watch TV together- sitting again for another 2 hours probably if you count watching Dora with my daughter before her bedtime, too.

I have yet to get much time in for exercise. I know I need to be more active

I think Jen indicated the study was focusing on time spent sitting outside of your work. I wonder then if they classified people's work environment appropriately in the study. In any case, I just didn't appreciate people's comments on this subject. It sounds like more a general "lifestyle" observation between people who are always on the go versus people who (despite regular exercise) generally do not move much outside of that exercise time. Let's keep this in perspective. Report
This article (as do most news articles) excludes a lot of the variables that were included in the original publication of the study. Also in the original publication, the author states in his conclusion that "public health messages and guidelines should be refined to include reducing time spent sitting in addition to promoting physical activity."

The bottom line (as most of us here already know) is that a sedentry lifestyle is not healthy for anyone.

Here is the reference to the original article in case anyone has access to a medical library.
Patel AV, Bernstein L, Deka A, Feigelson HS, Campbell PT, Gapstur SM, Colditz GA, Thun MJ. Leisure Time Spent Sitting in Relation to Total Mortality in a
Prospective Cohort of US Adults. Am J Epidemiol. 2010 Jul 22. [Epub ahead of
print] PubMed PMID: 20650954.

I'm going to borrow a part of another poster's comment..."I choose to ignore this article." I know that small changes make a difference. I will not be discouraged become someone, somewhere says otherwise. Report
I'm really amazed at the people who, instead of looking at their lives and thinking about how they can become more active, are shooting the messenger. Heck, a few people that aren't even sitting for six hours at a stretch at home are getting angry at Jen, and the article doesn't even apply to them. Just start moving around more! Don't be inactive! Healthy living requires lifestyle changes, and one of them is becoming a more active person. I first heard this 12 years ago, when my (then fiance now) husband was in cardiac rehab. In order to be healthy, you need both exercise and other physical activity, such as sports, walks with friends, housecleaning, etc. To quote the article, "although exercise is key, how you spend the other 23 hours a day is just as important." What's controversial or unbelievable about that? Report
I cannot sit around after a meal and chat - cannot cannot cannot - I will just start feeling so antsy and suggest we take a walk to continue the chat. Report
I was so depressed after reading that downer of an article that I'm still trying to reconcile it in my memory file. My mother is 89 and was never an on-the-go nervous Nelly. She lives alone, drives, and is going strong. Unfortunately, some people think if you are not living your life like they are you are doomed, doomed, doomed. Well, they are wrong, wrong, wrong. Coach Jen, you cannot conceive of the damage you have done to people who were trying to change a little at a time and starting to succeed. Report
I'm wondering why sitting at work for 6 hours is ok, but sitting for liesure is not. I'm thinking I want to get up every 30 minutes even while working. Report
I am sitting at a computer at work and make use of my breaks and lunch by getting up, walking and stretching. No tone to sit after work as I am hyper and need to be doing something! Even while watching T.V, I'll pick up a weight, walk up the staris during commercials, (the bad ones) or read a magazine. Something to think about and although negative info, we need to be mindful and take the good with the bad. Report
I think I will die sooner than the people that sit because I can't sit still as this has to be worse on me physically and mentally. Wish I could just sit and watch TV. Generally I don't sit down until I lay down to sleep. Ridiculous! Bless the people who can relax after a hard day at work (sitting or standing). Report
I agree with Carolyn1Alaska. If my daily routine doesn't make a difference to my overall chances of a healthier lifestyle - why bother? My job keeps me at the computer for 9 hours a day, I have 90 minute commute during the day, I sleep for 8 hours, I exercise for 90 minutes a day and the rest of the time is spent relaxing, reading and watching TV. And for all this you're telling me "it doesn't matter"! I guess I should just accept the fact that my time on earth is predestined and I should just go back to drinking beer, staying out late, eat what I want and not waste my time on exercise. Life would be a whole lot more fun. Report
I like that the author clarified that simply exercising isn't enough--we need a more active lifestyle overall. It can sound negative, but it's always better to know the truth and deal with it!
Thanks for this article. Report
This is the most depressing article I've read in a long time, especially given how much sitting I'm required to do by my job.
It makes me feel like I should just quit my exercise program and throw in the towel, since the 60-90 minutes a day I spend working out doesn't count for anything but is negated by the 10 hours I sit at work and commuting. Report
Gee...talk about shooting the messenger! Report
This is interesting and depressing in the same. It's not very encouraging to me, being day 2 into this whole exercising, eating right process. I disagree with this blog and the article that is referenced as well. I feel like if I am exercising 3 days a week, I am doing better for my body and my health than I would be just coming home from work and doing nothing. As the first blog that I have read, I am a little disappointed. Hope they get better. Report
What's the difference between sitting at work or sittting at home?? This is really scary and depressing! It seems that no matter what we do, how much we exercise or don't exercise, we can't win!! I don't spend a lot of time sitting at home, I am always up doing something, vaccuuming, laundry, watering plants, gardening or working out. I actually don't like to just sit and watch tv. BUT, I do spend a lot of time sitting at the computer at work, which I know is not good for my health. Here I tought that making this up by exercising a lot outside of work was the right thing to do!! I am sure that I am doing the right thing, but it is still depressing to know that I may not even be increasing my life expectency!!!

I always say we shouldn't believe everything we read...here's an article I am chosing to ignore!! I will continue doing what I am doing now because I feel good doing it!! Report
I don't know weather to shi**,eat or run so I am going to continue doing all 3. Report
There is a guy that writes for "Fitness" magazine, who wants a law passed that all offices have desks up high, so the workers can stand and do their work, not sit down at their desk all day. Says it would make for a much healthier America.........too much sitting, no matter how noble, is not good at all, according to him. Report
Great, even with clarification, when you spend 12 hours per day preparing for work, commuting to and from work, and being behind a desk all day to rush home to exercise ( God forbid I need to stop at the grocery store or for gas on the way home), tend to the animals, exercise for 30-40 min, and set aside 8 hours for sleep. That leaves about 3 hours to eat, take care of household chores, tend to the yard, flowers, watering, clean up inside, do a little laundry, hopefully relax just a little bit before bed, maybe even read a little, and/or possibly catch the news, and maybe some time with hubby. Wow! where's the room for more activity for a more active lifestyle? Good thing I don't have kids on top of that! I'm guessing the author has much more time on her hands to be active.
this is the most depressing thing I have read... after being totally inactive (except for being at work - where I sit all day) I've been working very hard to increase my exercise (beginning with starting to exercise in the first place) - guess the 15 pounds I've lost so far don't count for anything - why bother now? this blog sure isn't going to help with my negative self talk - why bother if I'm probably doomed anyway???? Report
I have found that gradually increasing exercise begins to give me the energy to stop sitting on the couch and watching TV...if I am exercising regularly I am more likely to straighten my house, play with my daughter, work in the yard, or go do a fun outdoor activity than to sit and watch TV regularly. But it is important to remember to reduce screen time or sitting during leisure time because it's not good for your body. If it is necessary, like a college student or for your job, make sure you take movement breaks. (note, the author refers to time spent sitting OUTSIDE OF WORK not due to work) There are lots of 5-10 minute exercises on Sparkpeople that can be helpful for those who need to sit for 12+ hours a day. I really liked this article and I am also capable of taking ANY article I've read and trying to look at the positive intentions in it rather than picking the poor author to pieces! Thank you to the author! Report
I bought a $9.00 exercise stability ball and sit, wiggle, roll and move on it while I'm on the computer. You can even move while you type. It doesn't interfere at all; I'm doing it right now! Report
Thank you for the author clarification. Perhaps they need to do a little editing.. I work 9 hours a day at my desk, altho I am up and down, exercise on the way home (1 hour) and try to get 7 hours of sleep in.. that leaves me about 6-7 hours a day during the week to relax... granted I am not NOT moving...my bladder won't last that long without getting up a few times and I need to make dinner, have a shower and the other routine things that most of us do and my 125 pound loss is a testament to this...ALTHO I get the idea of what this person is trying to say it's just not communicated very well. Mebbe they could do a bit of a re-write?
I am not surprised. I was exercising so hard that i spent much time in the recliner chair recovering from my exercising. Of course that meant that nothing got done in the house. All that daily activity does add up. I hope i have learned my lesson and do not go at it so hard that it wipes me out for the rest of the day. Report
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