Can sitting down for too long each day increase your risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and death?

Calling all you couch potatoes out there!  Make sure you stand up while you read this because it seems the longer you sit, the shorter your life could be!

Here in the woodland we elves know that a sedentary lifestyle can contribute to many preventable causes of death.   So we like to keep ourselves busy and away from the dreaded screens – practising our bow and arrow skills, for example.  Anything that gets us up on our feet and indulging in some form of physical activity, perhaps even a bit of dwarf ambushing, just for fun of course.

A systematic review from the UK has been published this month that attempts to examine the association of sedentary (sitting) time with diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cardiovascular and all-cause mortality.  The sedentary behaviour investigated refers to sitting or lying behaviour rather than just an absence of moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity (MPVA).  After a search of relevant databases they found eighteen studies that were suitable for inclusion involving 794,577 participants with a mean age ranging from 38 to 63 years.  Of these, sixteen were prospective cohort studies and two were of cross-sectional design.  Fifteen of the studies were shown to be of moderate to high quality research.  A meta-analysis of the data was carried out and comparisons of outcomes associated with the highest sedentary time were compared with the lowest.  This is what they found:

  • The greatest sedentary time compared with the lowest was associated with a 112% increase in the relative risk (RR) of diabetes (RR 2.12; 95% credible interval [CrI] 1.68, 2.78) and
  • A 147% increase in the RR of cardiovascular events (RR 2.47; 95% CI 1.44, 4.24)
  • A 90% increase in the risk of cardiovascular mortality (hazard ratio (HR) 1.90; 95% CrI 1.36, 2.66)
  •  A 49% increase in the risk of all-cause mortality (HR 1.49; 95% CrI 1.14, 2.03)
  •  The strength of the association was shown to be most consistent for diabetes


  • All studies used a self-reported measure of sedentary behaviour, which can have poor validity
  • Only studies reported in English were included in the review
  • Some studies reported data on multiple sedentary behaviours but only those reporting either TV/screen based entertainment or self-reported sitting times, or both, were used for the meta-analysis

The authors concluded:

 “This meta-analysis highlights the need for researchers to standardise measures of sedentary time in future studies.”

“Future diabetes prevention programmes should consider promoting reduced sedentary behaviour alongside more traditional lifestyle behaviours such as increased MPVA and dietary change.”

Well I hope you’re all on your feet now.  Seems that even standing on the spot is better than sitting on your bot!


Wilmot EGEdwardson CLAchana FADavies MJGorely TGray LJKhunti KYates TBiddle SJ.  Sedentary time in adults and the association with diabetes, cardiovascular disease and death: systematic review and meta-analysis. Diabetologia. 2012 Aug 14. [PubMed]