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Sitting at work increases risk of death


A new study examines health of people who sit at work compared with those on their feet. The results may make you and your patients want to get some exercise.

sitting in office: © metamorworks -

© metamorworks -

Physicians, tell your patients that sitting still at work is increasing their risk of death.

A new study found sitting at work creates a 16% higher all-cause mortality risk for adults, even after adjusting for sex, age, education, smoking, drinking, and body mass index (BMI).

The solution: regular breaks and engaging in additional leisure time physical activity (LTPA).

“Systemic changes, such as more frequent breaks, standing desks, designated workplace areas for physical activity, and gym membership benefits, can help reduce risk,” said the original investigation, “Occupational Sitting Time, Leisure Physical Activity, and All-Cause and Cardiovascular Disease Mortality,” published in JAMA Network Open.

Risk of sitting

In modern life, sitting for work “is considered normal and has not received due attention,” although evidence is mounting that it hurts people’s health, according to the study.

Researchers tracked 481,688 participants aged 20 years and older in a membership-based annual to biannual health checkup program in Taiwan from 1996 to 2017. Participants answered questionnaires about their medical history, lifestyle risks, and the query: “What is your level of physical activity at work?”

They also explained their weekly leisure time physical activities, and were divided into five categories, from inactive, or less than 15 minutes of physical activity per day, to very high, or at least 90 minutes per day.

Most of the participants – 60.2% – were in the mostly sitting group, with 10.7% in the nonsitting group and 29.1% alternating sitting and nonsitting. The sitting group tended to be younger, better educated, and with fewer lifestyle risks such as smoking, drinking, or being overweight, the study said.

Regardless, they had 16% higher risk of dying by all causes and 34% higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease (CVD), compared with the nonsitting group. Participants who alternated sitting and nonsitting did not have an increased risk of all-cause mortality.

Based on subgroups, researchers found “significantly increased all-cause mortality” and CVD mortality for men, women, people younger and older than 60 years, smokers, never smokers, and people with chronic conditions such as diabetes and hypertension.

Moving to reduce risks

Physical activity helped reduce the risk for the mostly sitting cohort. The data showed “individuals who mostly sit at work but engage in high LTPA have all-cause mortality comparable to that of individuals who mostly do not sit at work but had lower LTPA,” the study said.

The researchers suggested possible interventions to reduce patient risks:

  • Incorporating regular breaks in work settings.
  • Using standing tables and activity-permissive workstations.
  • Getting an extra 15 to 30 minutes of exercise a day.

“Employers can play a role in facilitating this by providing designated areas for LTPA or offering company-sponsored group activities,” the study said.

The researchers noted the World Health Organization in 2020 issued guidelines about estimated minimum physical activity for children and adults.

Each week, adults aged 18 to 64 should do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic physical activity, or at least 75 minutes of vigorous intensity aerobic physical activity, such as such as walking, running, swimming, and cycling. More is better, and adults will get greater benefits from moderate to greater intensity muscular strength training at least two days a week, according to WHO.

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