Sitting down FAQs – why is it bad and how long is too long?

The potential health risks of a sedentary lifestyle have been flying around the media for the past few months. With headlines like 'sitting down is killing you', it can seem a little disturbing and perhaps plain bizarre how a seemingly harmless activity like working at our desks has become such a hot topic.

So we're here to work through some of the big questions to see what all the fuss is about.

Why is sitting down bad for you?

One of the key figures in unmasking the health impacts of too much sitting is Dr James Levine. According to Dr Levine's research, the sit-down culture of the western world – whether at work or relaxing at home – has been linked to up to 34 different chronic conditions including obesity and diabetes, not to mention sleep, metabolism and even psychological disorders.

More concerning is the growing heap of evidence pointing towards the lowly chair being more lethal than smoking.

How long is too long?

Initially, Dr Levine's findings are daunting. For each hour we sit, we can theoretically knock two hours off our life.

In a recent Australian study, results indicated longer periods of sitting (more than 8 hours a day) correlated with a higher mortality rate than those who spend three hours or less in a chair, even for those who were highly active. The urbanised human can spend anywhere between 10-15 hours a day sitting down.

What can I do about it?

Standing desks are a fantastic way to deal with the problem at its root. Offices are gradually introducing them, so ask around and see whether standing up at work could be an option for you.

If you are at home, why not give it a go?  If you're used to working with your laptop on the couch, try positioning it on the kitchen counter (without using a stool, sneaky). Banish that chair and elevate your computer with boxes or books, or a invest in a more permanent standing desk.

If neither of these solutions is an option, Indiana University found that breaking up your sitting time throughout the day by taking a five minute break for every hour you spend sitting is shown to help reverse the damage we do to the arteries in our poor legs.

If you've just picked up your stainless steel drink bottle and reusable sandwich wrap to head for lunch, resist the temptation to stay seated after your meal. Dr Levine's findings suggest your blood pressure spikes dramatically when resting (literally) on your laurels, which can increase the likelihood of developing Type 2 diabetes.

By taking an easy, gentle paced 15 minute walk after meals, a related Mayo Clinic study shows your glucose reading is almost halved.

So to paraphrase the great James Brown, it looks like your best solution is to get up off of that thing.