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Continuing Education

Sitting less and moving more or deliberate exercise: which is the more effective strategy

Posted on May 12, 2017 at 9:15 AM

Sitting less and moving more

May be more important than deliberate exercise.

What do we know?

New research reveals that individuals at high risk of developing overweight/obesity related diseases such as type ²diabetes would benefit from being told to sit less and move around more often rather than simply exercising regularly. The experts suggest that reducing sitting time by 90 minutes in total per day could lead to important health benefits. The idea that exercise is good for us is drilled into our brains by the medical community and what I call “those media experts on Good Morning America”. While certain types of exercise can certainly be beneficial, placing too much emphasis on formal exercise may be highlighting the wrong issue and contributing to long term health problems. Research is now telling us that movement rather than exercise has the most positive impact on our weight and overall health.

What do you think the definition of the term Sedentary is?

You may be surprised how the usual, conventional thinking is not supported by what physiology science supports. I can’t tell you how many people I have seen in my practice that begins our initial conversation with “I have no idea of why I am overweight/obese since I exercise!” Typically it goes like this: I go to the gym nearly every day. I work with a personal trainer a couple of days a week. I do “beach boot camp” a couple of times a year. I go Zumba class 3 X per week.

Who is more sedentary: the person who exercises for one hour several times per week or the one who never exercises at all? Conventional wisdom tells you that the second person is sedentary. This, however, is an incomplete picture and may in fact be completely wrong if other factors are considered.

More important than how often you participate in structured exercise is how much you move during your everyday life. Why? Because how much time you spend sitting adversely affects your health far more than how much time you spend doing formal exercise. If you spend hours a day sitting (at a computer, in front of a television, reading, playing video games, etc.), it can negatively impact your health even if you exercise regularly. Basically, regular exercise is not enough to counteract an otherwise sedentary lifestyle.

Given this new understanding of inactivity physiology and the health impacts of sedentary behavior, I would argue that there is now sufficient evidence for health practitioners to expand their thinking beyond “purposeful exercise”. In my opinion, it would be very helpful if PCP’s would feel comfortable engaging their patient’s in this “health” conversation. Especially; this new perspective on the negative health consequences of too much sitting should be seen as a sensible first start for those who are inactive due to motivation and/or limited mobility. Adding in consistent movement along with participation in any purposeful, physical activity the patient is already engaging in is certainly an advantageous partner.

Communicating this new perspective to the public and to policy-makers will require some ingenuity and clear messages that it is neither one nor the other but both. I suggest that too much sitting around need equal emphasis with exercise recommendations. Many people have a poor or limited understanding of what is meant by “sedentary time.” Perhaps the most practical definition of sedentary time for the public could be based on postures such as sitting and lying down. People do not know their minute-by-minute energy expenditure or personal metabolic profile throughout the day, but they do know their posture. When people are sedentary and awake, they sometimes lie down but they usually sit. People sit at work. People sit to eat. People sit in social settings. Thus, public health recommendations about physical inactivity may be best communicated if they use terminology related to posture: “Be aware of your posture throughout the day: sit less, stand more!”

The best solution to being sedentary is to sprinkle “good posture” into our everyday lives with activity. This can be done in a variety of ways:

1. Take phone calls standing up or walking.

2. Use a standing desk if possible or sit on an exercise ball at your desk.

3. Take frequent breaks during your day by getting up and walking around for about 5 minutes every hour

4. Try yoga or Tai Chi stretching movements 2-3 times per day for 2-5 minutes

5. Get up during commercial breaks while you`re watching television.

6. Use the stairs instead of the elevator whenever you have the choice.

7. Park on the far side of the parking lot when you can.

8. Get up and go window shopping rather than browsing online.

9. When you meet with friends, clients or colleagues try to do something that includes more movement and stop making eating the center of these fellowship based activities. I always say: “Time with others should always be about the fellowship not the food!”


This information is solely provided to assist you in a conversation with your physician. Consult your physician regarding the applicability of any information provided to your symptoms or medical condition. Only your physician is qualified to determine what is right for you and your specific health concerns

These are the resources that provided the information that I used in this article and shaped my opinion                                                                                                                                                                                                           

Haskell WL, Lee IM, Pate RR, et al. Physical activity and public health: updated recommendation for adults from the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2007;116:1081–1093.



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1 Comment

Reply CharlesFab
8:00 AM on September 8, 2017 
More info!..