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Obesity and the Science of Sitting

Brianne Bruijns

posted February 15, 2017

It’s that time of year again; you know, when we contemplate giving up our New Year’s resolution to lose weight. You told yourself you were going to exercise more and eat healthier, but it just seems too hard, right? Well, what if I told you there was an easy way out?     


When most people think of losing or maintaining their weight, they think “exercise” and “nutrition” – but there’s another, almost effortless way. It’s simple: sit less. Sedentary behaviour (i.e. prolonged sitting) is a silent killer. This emerging field of study has linked sedentary behaviour to many of the same poor health outcomes associated with obesity, including type II diabetes, hyperlipidaemia, hypertension, depression, and cardiovascular disease (Brocklebank et al., 2015). Studies have also found that engaging in high amounts of sedentary behaviour, independent of physical activity level, has dangerous health consequences (Greer et al., 2015). This means that even if you go to the gym and achieve the recommended 150 minutes per week of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (according to the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines for Adults), you’re still at-risk of developing these poor health outcomes.


Unfortunately, sitting has become an integral part of our everyday life; you sit while driving to school/work, you sit at a desk all day, you sit while driving home from school/work, and to reward yourself from your long day of sitting, you sit on the couch and turn on the TV. In a study looking at the sedentary profile of Western University students, results determined students spend an average of 11.88 hours per day being sedentary (Moulin, 2016). Students often boast about their hour-long daily workout at the gym, but what good is it doing your body if you spend the rest of your day sitting? But there is good news! Research shows that interrupting long bouts of sitting with standing or light physical activity (e.g. walking) can positively affect a number of different health markers (Bond et al., 2014). Sitting less can also help you lose weight (Healey et al., 2008), and can even increase your focus when studying (Commissaris et al., 2014). Decreasing sedentary behaviour might, in fact, be the missing link to obesity prevention and treatment.


The Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology recommends that you limit prolonged periods of sitting by taking frequent breaks (aim to move for ~10 minutes every hour). Luckily, unlike altering your diet or hitting the gym everyday, sitting less is something that can be easily integrated into your daily routine. Try standing while you write that essay, or walk instead of taking the bus. There are even apps that will remind you to take a break from sitting (like Stand Up! The Work Break Timer). So stand up and give yourself that break – your body will thank you!


For more information on sedentary behaviour and how you can change your sedentary profile, follow @sitlesswestern on Twitter and Instagram.



Bond, D. S., Thomas, J. G., Raynor, H. A., Moon, J., Sieling, J., Trautvetter, J., ... & Wing, R. R. (2014). B-MOBILE-A smartphone-based intervention to reduce sedentary time in overweight/obese individuals: A within-subjects experimental trial. PLoS One, 9(6), 800-821.

Brocklebank, L. A., Falconer, C. L., Page, A. S., Perry, R., & Cooper, A. R. (2015). Accelerometer-measured sedentary time and cardiometabolic biomarkers: A systematic review. Preventive Medicine, 76, 92-102.

Commissaris, D. A., Könemann, R., Hiemstra-van Mastrigt, S., Burford, E. M., Botter, J., Douwes, M., & Ellegast, R. P. (2014). Effects of a standing and three dynamic workstations on computer task performance and cognitive function tests. Applied Ergonomics, 45(6), 1570-1578.

Greer, A. E., Sui, X., Maslow, A. L., Greer, B. K., & Blair, S. N. (2015). The effects of sedentary behavior on metabolic syndrome independent of physical activity and cardiorespiratory fitness. Journal of Physical Activity and Health, 12(1), 68-73.

Healy, G. N., Dunstan, D. W., Salmon, J., Cerin, E., Shaw, J. E., Zimmet, P. Z., & Owen, N. (2008). Breaks in sedentary time. Diabetes Care, 31(4), 661-666. Moulin, M. S. (2016). An assessment of sedentary time among undergraduate students at an urban Canadian university (Doctoral dissertation, The University of Western Ontario).

Moulin, M. S. (2016). An Assessment of Sedentary Time Among Undergraduate Students at an Urban Canadian University (Master's thesis, The University of Western Ontario).