Sitting Kills Millions

wooden figure sitting on a window sill

Photo credit: Flickr / JoshSimons

The study published last week by Lancet estimates that physical inactivity – i.e. sitting – killed 5 – 12 million people prematurely in 2008. Physical inactivity causes as many deaths yearly as smoking, alcoholism and obesity, and it’s the fourth leading cause of death worldwide.

Also, physical inactivity increases the risk of many non-contagious diseases like coronary heart disease, diabetes (type 2), breast and colon cancers. The researchers also estimated that if inactivity was decreased by 10%, over half million lives would be spared. Twenty-five percent decrease would save 1.3 million lives.


Sorry for the boring researcher “speak” above, the (ex-)researcher in me took over and for her it’s of the utmost importance to report research results correctly, rather than engage the readers. It would be just h-o-r-r-i-b-l-e if I made a mistake when/if I draw conclusions from the research. 🙂

Anyway, here are my personal musings about the topic.

We have a pandemic of physical inactivity.

You’ve probably heard about the pandemic of obesity .

We also have a worldwide epidemic of physical inactivity that kills millions of people every year, and the numbers are probably only going to increase, not decrease. Think about all the people in developing countries that still may live a life that is physically active. When they get cars, office jobs and labor-saving devices their physical activity is going to plummet just like ours did.

You may’ve noticed I don’t speak about exercise, I speak of physical activity. That’s because having – for example – 3 hours of vigorous structured exercise per week doesn’t come even close to satisfying our need for physical activity.

The amount of recreational exercise in Western countries may have actually increased, but it just isn’t enough to replace all the physical activity we’ve lost with transportation, labor-saving devices and ict (our newest nemesis).

It takes more effort, planning and money to lead a physically active life than a physically inactive life.

I think it’s ironic. The garden-variety of physical movement I’m talking about is absolutely free, but it’s much easier to be physically inactive rather than active.

For example, I have a bike but I don’t really use it much thse days, simply because I want to maximize the amount of walking I do every day.  I run errands the old-fashioned way – I walk to and from the local mall or take a metro train if I have to get to the city center to do something (thank god I don’t own a car). The point is that I had to make a conscious decision to not use my bike even though it would be so handy.

I also try to take walks just for the sake of physical activity (I use a pedometer to track my daily steps).

I still find it pretty hard to collect enough steps. I have a small apartment and I’m a lazy homemaker, which means that I lose many opportunities to be physically active. I have no garden to tend to. The only pets I have are the dust bunnies that I let freely graze under my bed (now if I chased them more often….)

Also, I spend hours on my computer every day writing, reading blogs and using social media (oops, I forgot I watch television too). I would love to own a treadmill desk, but I can’t really afford one at the moment. If I had one, I could be physically active whilst reading blogs and using social media.

At least I’m lucky enough to live in a country where it’s safe (and unpolluted) enough to walk outdoors even at a late hour. That is what I did yesterday after 10 pm when I got fed up with all the sitting and went for a brisk walk.


My question: Have you made arrangements in your life / daily habits to increase your physical activity (I don’t mean increasing structured exercise)? There are many ways to do that and I’m curious to hear bout yours!

Leave your comment below.


  1. Satu

    While I try to get to the gym 4-5 times a week I need to do more incidental exercise. I’ve become slack about things I used to always do. I’ve been driving to work instead of the 10min walk to the train station. I drive to the shopping centre rather than walk 5minutes to a corner shop – and so forth.

    It makes me realise that I need to do more day to day stuff and not just focus on ‘exercise’.


    • Satu says:

      Habits are bad because it’s sooo easy to fall into them (I can’t really use a word create here). Exercising 4-5 times a week is a lot , now I’m jealous of you. 🙂

  2. You make EXCELLENT points and no, I do not get enough physical activity!! Yes, I work out with kettlebells three times a week and I (try) to take walks on the other days, but mostly I just sit. BAH!!

    • Satu says:

      *Try* is often the operative word over here too! 🙂

  3. Lori says:

    I don’t get in enough activity. I am active when I am not working, but my work is so sedentary. I have to sit still while I transcribe and there is just no way around it. If there was some way I could work my foot pedal by blinking or something like that, then I could get a treadmill desk. There is just no way around the fact that 6.5+ hours of my day are going to be on my butt. That’s probably the thing that I dislike about my job the most.

    • Satu says:

      You know, that blinking solution might not be so far in the future! We can soon operate your television sets by blinking etc 🙂 And at least you ride a lot during summers..

  4. Aimee says:

    Physical inactivity is an extremely grave problem. I am so mindful of how long my son is in front of the tv or computer. I encourage outdoor playtime even in the elements. Give a child an umbrella and rain boots and suddenly playing in the rain is awesome! I have tried to instill a love of physical activity in my son by doing it myself.

    I am a fairly active person now. My job keeps me on my toes much of the shift. I am constantly on the go with my little guy at home. We jump on the trampoline, play at the park, go ice skating, go for hikes and walks. However, it wasn’t always like this. Having a child motivated me to get active and healthy. Now I do it because I love how it makes me feels. I have learned that I also need a training or workout schedule to keep me on track with fitness.

    That doesn’t mean that everyday is perfect. I just took a week off from running to deal with a mild injury. As excited as I am to get back to running I’m also a bit complacent having enjoyed the time off in some ways. I’ll start back tomorrow and I know after a few days I’ll be back on track. Sometimes I would love a day of doing absolutely nothing!

    • Satu says:

      You’re laying a good foundation, Aimee! 🙂

      I think that the critical time with children is when they enter puberty. Before that most children are very energetic and physcially active. I turned into a book worm when I hit puberty and some turrn to computers and gaming…

  5. Is it that we’re also all having a lot less fun? I mean real fun, like we used to have when we were younger?

    My jobs when I was young, were all sedentary. But my life wasn’t totally work focused although I always worked long hours. There was more balance, more fun. And I always did my fav, fun ‘exercises’, not for the sake of exercising but for the fun I had. Running, creative dancing, walking, yoga…

    Or is it just me having loads less fun? 😉

    • Satu says:

      Hi Angela!

      I suspect that we are jsut having less fun and that is something to do with age – I was much more care-free and energetic when I was younger. Now everything is sooo serious (if I let it be) now that I’m a responsible adult. 🙂

      Time to bring the fun back?

      • Satu,

        Sorry, just seeing… Time to bring the fun back?


        Habitual fun.

        Wow. 😉

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