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Paige Waehner

Fit Fact: Why sitting makes you fat

By September 12, 2008

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You might want to stand up while you read this, especially when you find out what some scientists have discovered about sitting.

We all know that sitting can contribute to weight problems and common sense tells us that's because sitting doesn't burn as many calories as, say, standing or walking. But, that isn't the only issue with sitting.

In a study published in Diabetes, scientists found that when we sit for long periods of time, the enzymes responsible for burning fat actually shut down. Not only that, but sitting too much can also lower HDL ('good' cholesterol) and lead to a slower metabolism. Even if you exercise later in the day, that won't necessarily undo the damage done by sitting.

The question these scientists are asking, and maybe the question some of us are wondering is: "Can the average adult who already does not follow the public health policy prescribing regular moderate-vigorous exercise become even more unhealthy in the coming years if they sit too much and do not maintain sufficient daily nonexercise physical activity?"

The answer to that is probably a yes, unless we do something about it. The good news is that just standing up can kick your fat-burning enzymes into gear. With a little creativity, you may find there are simple ways to get your butt out of the chair:

  • Try software that reminds you to move. There are a number of applications available (like StretchWare) that offer break reminders and stretching exercises you can do right in your office.
  • Set an alarm to go off every 45-60 minutes and stand up, stretch or take a short walk
  • Stand up for certain tasks like talking on the phone or opening the mail
  • Take the stairs to another floor to use the restroom or visit a friend

Do you have any ideas for staying active at work? Leave a comment and tell us about it!


Hamilton, Marc T., et al. Role of Low Energy Expenditure and Sitting in Obesity, Metabolic Syndrome, Type 2 Diabetes, and Cardiovascular Disease. Diabetes. 2007 Nov;56(11):2655-67.

September 12, 2008 at 10:26 am
(1) Jeanette says:

This was such a helpful add! I sit monday through friday in an office and rarely take a break! I will be walking around my office now everytime the phone rings and I’ll also take a walk around the building every break I get. Scary to think of all the sitting I’ve done.

September 12, 2008 at 11:11 am
(2) catluver42 says:

Very obvious! Of course if you sit to long with no activity you will gain weight and if you diet with no activity you probably won’t lose much, plus, working out without eating healthy is counter-productive. Were we born yesterday??

September 12, 2008 at 1:04 pm
(3) Adam says:

Gee, catluver- thanks for the insightful comment. You must have some kind of grudge – your comments are always so negative.

I was actually surprised by this post – not that sitting can make you fat, but that your body actually retains more fat when you sit. People should really click on the link to read the whole study (it’s long, but there are some interesting points). I also didn’t know that sitting would lower your metabolism. I think most of us who sit all day think we can go do a workout and everything will be okay, but this proves that isn’t the case. This will certainly make me think twice about sitting for an hour or two without getting up.

September 13, 2008 at 12:24 am
(4) RudeChic says:

I have a reusable water bottle that holds 18oz of water, i make it a point to drink it and walk to the fountain every 2 hours or so to refill it and use the rest room. I also get up and to go the copy room every hour or so and sort out the copies and faxes and deliver them to who they belong to. thats all my ideas! anyone got anything else?

September 13, 2008 at 2:18 am
(5) Milka says:

Every body tells me that I have a very bad habit…. when I am alone I eat standing up by the kitchen counter to my right are the knife etc. to my left the sink. My time is perfectly balanced, the dishes are clean in a jiffy and the kitchen always clean//Will be watching how my HDL is doing…

September 13, 2008 at 10:45 pm
(6) alice says:

so flaw. then how many hours a day of sitting is allowed? why doesn’t exercising later on undo the damage?

September 14, 2008 at 12:53 pm
(7) Ann says:

So then, what do you do about that problem when you’re forced to sit most or all of the time because of an injury?!

September 14, 2008 at 11:06 pm
(8) Nickie says:

Instead of waiting for a lot of copies to make, I get up on purpose every single time I need one. I wear a pedometer daily and try to have at least 4000 steps while being at work.

September 15, 2008 at 5:09 pm
(9) Erick says:

Portable exercise bikes that fit under a desk are great tools for working out while you sit.

September 17, 2008 at 2:24 pm
(10) Hannah says:

Like gee man,when i read this i was like oh my god! i was so shocked that sitting down for a long period off time can effect your weight and you will gain weight from this.
So thank you so much for putting this up here on this website because now insted off just sitting around watching t.v in my spare time i go out for a walk or a jog in the park each day and quess waht ITS GREAT !! :) so thanks sooo much :)

September 19, 2008 at 11:29 am
(11) Susan says:

I sometimes work with the radio on. When I hear a good song, I’ll get up and dance. Only takes a couple minutes, and it energizes me. I should mention that I work at home. I have to admit I’d be a lot more inhibited if I was in an office and others could watch me. (Picture Elaine dancing on Seinfeld.)

September 19, 2008 at 2:16 pm
(12) Lindsey says:

I’m a college student and very into fitness and nutrition and anything that has to do with bettering my body. A few things that I do on a daily basis to ensure at least a few boosts daily are with every text message I get, I have to do 5 push ups before I can open it. If I am in class or somewhere else that I can’t do push ups at the moment, I will keep a tally (on my hand as a close reminder) and instead, I’ll do a butt squeeze lasting from the time I open it till the time I finish responding. I also never cut corners…if there is a sidewalk, I will take it no matter how much it curves around to where I’m trying to go. I never take elevators, always stairs..I walk/run to whatever possible (I’m a college student, I can’t really afford gas anyways haha), if I’m standing in line anywhere I do calf raises…all the little things add up!

September 19, 2008 at 2:32 pm
(13) PenguinCity says:

There are usually two routes to visit someone else’s office in your building or to the coffee machine. Take the longer route.

September 19, 2008 at 2:56 pm
(14) Blueschix says:

About 5 years ago, I put my computer monitor on two upside down stacking paper trays and my keyboard on three stacked trays to elevate them so that I can stand at my desk. I am standing most of the time, reading and answering email, typing reports, etc. I can sit when I have to sign those reports or review files. It sure has helped to beat the battle of the bulge.

September 19, 2008 at 7:09 pm
(15) Kat says:

First, standing for long periods of time, particularly in one place, isn’t good for you either so I don’t know about standing at your desk to work.

But I’m wondering…what if you brought in one of those yoga balls (whatever you want to call it) to sit on instead of a chair at your desk? It’s supposed to activate your “core” consistantly since your body has to work to stay balanced on it. Plus, you could always roll down and do a couple crunches throughout the day.

September 21, 2008 at 3:22 pm
(16) Colleen says:

Good article, but I’m afraid I’m stuck working at a computer all day, unless someone figures out a way to type standing up. It explains why I have trouble raising my HDL which has hovered at the low-normal range for years.

September 26, 2008 at 4:16 pm
(17) andrew says:

I learned a long time ago to critically appraise everything the science community, and pseudo-science community puts out. I smell a rat!

October 2, 2008 at 1:40 pm
(18) Lyna L says:

Absolutely! Instead of sitting all day in front of computer, I make myself stand working, even typing every now and then. A pedometer is also a helper to remind you of adding steps by walking around and keeping moving.

October 16, 2010 at 10:58 am
(19) becky says:

Park farther from any building you are going to and walk that extra steps. Take the grocery cart all the way back up to the front door of the store. And yes to the core ball for work even at a desk. Simple stretches especially ones that open up your chest if you sit at a desk all day. And MASSAGE asking your therapist to do MYO on your pecs. If they don’t know what that is get a new therapist. If you live in Tucson AZ come see me

April 2, 2011 at 12:36 am
(20) Mirna says:

There’s a staircase right behind my office space. Every hour I go up and down the stairs 10 times (14 steps up and 14 steps down). I work 6 hours a day so that’s 840 steps a day!

May 20, 2011 at 10:29 am
(21) michael says:

liked the bit about software that reminds you

June 17, 2011 at 7:47 pm
(22) Ab Exer says:

I like your website, Also knowing your Ab Exer workouts, will help you know the right amount exercise to perform. The Crunches and Sit ups are the popular ab exercise. They give the abs a good workout and they do not put any strain on the back.

July 30, 2011 at 3:58 am
(23) Nitto says:

Interesting info! There’s a website called online-stopwatch where we can also set a countdown to 40-60 mins like you suggested then it will give off an alarm & we’ll know it’s time to take a little walk. I like what Susan said too!

June 19, 2013 at 12:42 pm
(24) Barb says:
June 19, 2013 at 2:14 pm
(25) Edana_Daithi says:

It always amazes me that you never include any activities suitable for those of us who are disabled and also exercise intolerant. I spend my days between sitting and getting around in a power chair, sitting in a specially made desk chair that will not tip, and propped up in bed. I know this is not healthy. I am very weak, but whether from the illness or lack of activity is very hard to tell. I have experimented with knee raises, lifting cans of soup over my head, and PT prescribed exercises. Every time I get to a point where I think I am making progress as a snail’s pace, I crash and spend several days in bed with excruciating pain. Before I finally had to stop working when I was 56 and go on disability, I worked long hours, that included a lot of walking, and lifting as well as driving, It is discouraging!

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