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Sitting and Metabolism: Understanding the Impact and Health Implications

Sitting and Metabolism: Understanding the Impact and Health Implications

By Sam Knijff
- 5 minutes read

With the rise of technology, remote jobs, and sedentary lifestyles, more individuals are finding themselves spending significant portions of their day sitting. Whether it's in front of a computer, TV, or during a long commute, these extended periods of inactivity have garnered attention from the medical community due to their potential health implications. One area that has seen particular focus is the connection between prolonged sitting and metabolism.

What is Metabolism?

Before addressing the effects of sitting on metabolism, it's important to understand what metabolism is. Metabolism encompasses all the chemical reactions that take place in the body to keep it alive, functioning, and active. These reactions can be anabolic (building up) or catabolic (breaking down). At its core, metabolism is responsible for converting the food we eat into energy, building and repairing tissues, and eliminating waste products.

Prolonged Sitting and Metabolic Rate

  1. Reduced Caloric Expenditure: When seated for extended periods, the body's muscular activity is minimal. This limited muscular engagement results in a decrease in the number of calories burned compared to when we're active. Over time, this reduction in caloric expenditure can contribute to weight gain.

  2. Decreased Enzymatic Activity: Lipoprotein lipase (LPL) is an enzyme responsible for breaking down fat and using it as an energy source. Extended periods of sitting have been associated with decreased LPL activity, leading to reduced fat breakdown and subsequent accumulation.

  3. Insulin Resistance: Prolonged inactivity, such as sitting, can lead to the cells becoming less responsive to insulin, a hormone responsible for regulating blood sugar. Insulin resistance can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes and other metabolic disorders.

Health Implications

  1. Obesity: The decreased caloric expenditure and slowed fat metabolism due to extended sitting can lead to weight gain and obesity. Overweight and obesity are risk factors for numerous health complications, including cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and certain cancers.

  2. Cardiovascular Diseases: Inactivity can lead to accumulation of fats in the arteries, which increases the risk of atherosclerosis, heart attacks, and strokes.

  3. Musculoskeletal Issues: Sitting for extended periods can strain the back and neck. Postural issues and musculoskeletal pain can arise, which, over time, can lead to chronic conditions.

  4. Mental Health Concerns: Extended sedentary behavior has also been linked with mental health challenges, including increased feelings of anxiety, depression, and reduced cognitive function.

Mitigating the Risks

Understanding the effects of prolonged sitting on metabolism and the associated health implications can be alarming. However, there are several strategies one can employ to counteract these effects:

  1. Regular Breaks: Stand, stretch, or take a short walk every 30 minutes. This can reactivate the muscles and increase metabolic rate.

  2. Standing Desks: These allow for work while standing, reducing the time spent sitting and offering a change in posture.

  3. Physical Activity: Incorporate regular exercise into your routine. Even simple activities like walking can help in boosting metabolism and reducing the risks associated with prolonged sitting.

  4. Ergonomic Seating: Invest in chairs designed for posture support, which can reduce musculoskeletal strain.

In conclusion, while the convenience of modern lifestyles often means increased sitting, it's essential to be aware of the metabolic and health implications of such behavior. By taking proactive steps and incorporating regular movement into our days, we can counteract some of these effects and promote better overall health.


  1. Prolonged Sitting and Metabolic Rate

    • Tremblay, M. S., Aubert, S., Barnes, J. D., Saunders, T. J., Carson, V., Latimer-Cheung, A. E., ... & Chastin, S. F. (2017). Sedentary Behavior Research Network (SBRN)–Terminology Consensus Project process and outcome. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 14(1), 75.

    • Hamilton, M. T., Hamilton, D. G., & Zderic, T. W. (2007). Role of low energy expenditure and sitting in obesity, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Diabetes, 56(11), 2655-2667.

  2. Decreased Enzymatic Activity

    • Bey, L., & Hamilton, M. T. (2003). Suppression of skeletal muscle lipoprotein lipase activity during physical inactivity: a molecular reason to maintain daily low-intensity activity. The Journal of Physiology, 551(2), 673-682.
  3. Insulin Resistance

    • Dunstan, D. W., Kingwell, B. A., Larsen, R., Healy, G. N., Cerin, E., Hamilton, M. T., ... & Owen, N. (2012). Breaking up prolonged sitting reduces postprandial glucose and insulin responses. Diabetes Care, 35(5), 976-983.
  4. Health Implications

    • Owen, N., Healy, G. N., Matthews, C. E., & Dunstan, D. W. (2010). Too much sitting: the population health science of sedentary behavior. Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews, 38(3), 105-113.

    • Katzmarzyk, P. T., Church, T. S., Craig, C. L., & Bouchard, C. (2009). Sitting time and mortality from all causes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 41(5), 998-1005.

  5. Mitigating the Risks

    • Thorp, A. A., Owen, N., Neuhaus, M., & Dunstan, D. W. (2011). Sedentary behaviors and subsequent health outcomes in adults: a systematic review of longitudinal studies, 1996-2011. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 41(2), 207-215.

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