Most of us spend hours per day sitting down, whether it be in traffic, at work, or when binge-watching our favorite TV episodes. The startling truth is that spending so much time sitting down could be killing us.

Although sitting for lengthy periods of time each day is linked to major health issues like Type 2 diabetes, joint discomfort, blood clotting, and cardiovascular disease, sitting may appear like a harmless pastime to some people.

You may have heard the phrase, “sitting is the new smoking,” which is credited to Dr. James Levine, Professor of Medicine at the Mayo Clinic. He has spent years studying the science of sitting, and the unintentional danger we put ourselves in each day by leading sedentary lives.

Human bodies were not designed to sit as much as we do, says Dr. Levine. Our ancestors spent most of their lives upright as they hunted for and grew food – only occasionally sitting down for breaks. In his book Get Up! Why Your Chair Is Killing You, he states that we have gone from an ancient world of movers to a modern world of chair sloths.

Why is sitting harmful for you if it is so relaxing? The issue is the quantity and duration of our daily sitting. The blood circulation, which is essential for optimum health and affects every system of the body, slows down when our bodies are in a static position for an extended period of time.

Poor blood circulation allows fatty acids to build up in the blood vessels, leading to heart disease. And, according to World Thrombosis Day, another risk is that when your legs remain still for hours, your calf muscles don’t contract, which normally helps blood circulate. This can lead to deep vein thrombosis (DVT), where clots form in the vessels in the calves of your legs if your calf muscles.

DVT is a serious problem. If a part of the blood clot breaks off, it can travel to the lungs, and cause blockages. This is called a pulmonary embolism (PE), and it may be fatal.

What You Can Do:

Try to estimate how many “bottom-bound” hours you spend each day, including the time you spend traveling to and from work, sitting at your desk, driving to and from errands, and relaxing on the sofa at night. It’s probably more than you realize when it’s added up. Children who spend their days inside playing video games and watching TV instead of playing outside run the danger of developing health issues as well.

It is clear that excessive sitting is impacting people negatively, just as smoking has over the years; so how can you break the habit? According to Dr. Henry Ddungu, a leading Ugandan thrombosis specialist, it’s not enough to just stand up all day long.

“Having your body stay still in any static position – whether it’s sitting, standing, or lying down – day after day, isn’t good for you. While it’s important to exercise, like going for a run or to the gym, exercise alone is not enough to offset the negative effects of sitting too much. Sitting is an independent risk factor, and its solution lies in incorporating as much movement into your day as you can,” he says.

Stay Moving!

Dr. Ddungu is part of the 2023 global World Thrombosis Day campaign steering committee, who, as part of their 10th anniversary, are encouraging people to get up and move to increase blood circulation, which can help lower the risk of blood clots.

It’s all the little movements we do in the day that matter, advises Dr. Ddungu, adding that the trick is to build movement into every part of your life. “During your work week, break up chair time by staying in motion whenever possible. Stand up while you’re talking on the phone, go for a walk during lunchtime, and take a five-minute standing break for every hour that you sit down,” he says.

“If you know that you’re going to be seated for long periods of time, wear loose-fitting clothing that allows blood to circulate, and stay hydrated by drinking water, to help thin the blood.”

At home, dance while you’re cooking or cleaning the house, and go for a walk with your children at the end of the day when all the family is home. When you are out shopping, park further away from wherever you’re going and walk the rest of the way. Take the stairs instead of lifts or escalators – or at least walk up the escalator.

“Every minute of physical activity counts,” says Dr. Ddungu. “Sitting will always be a part of everyday life, but we should all be considering how we can transform our sitting choices from habitual to intentional. Make it a daily habit to move more. The less you keep your body in a static position throughout the day, the better your chances for living a healthy life.”

Article Guest Written by Dr. Henry Ddungu, a hematology consultant. He is the first member to represent Africa on behalf of the World Thrombosis Day Steering Committee, which is comprised of leading international medical experts in the fields of hematology, thrombosis and hemostasis, vascular and general internal medicine, and public health.