Are you a sedentary gym junkie?

Updated: Aug 22, 2020

Pop quiz. In a normal day, do you:

  • Sit for more than 6 hours a day?

  • Often sit for longer than 30 minutes without a mini-break?

  • Walk less than 5500 steps a day?

Bad news. Training each day won't keep you healthy.

Sorry, not even if you smash a brutal weights session 7 days a week.

What really matters is how active you are each day, all day. The human body is designed to move. Chronic and prolonged inactivity is a disaster for our bodies. And it's a major set back if you want to lose body fat.

But I train religiously - isn't that active enough?

Did you know that on average Australians spend almost 10 hours a day sitting? That means that we spend more time in a day sitting than sleeping. [1]

We've probably all heard that 'sitting is the new smoking'. But why exactly is sitting so bad for us? In recent years, there has been a surge in international research to investigate the hidden impact of our default sedentary lifestyle. The results are frightening. There is now compelling research to show that prolonged and constant sitting is linked to serious health risks, such as heart disease, diabetes, back aches, muscle degeneration and depression.

Ok, but how about the fitness fanatic? You lift, you diet, you take supplements so that your nutrition is on point. You probably don't think all that much about your health too far into the future.

But listen up Miss and Mr Gym Junkie! You won't see the results you work so hard for if you sit on your butt for the rest of the day.

The human body is designed to move. Chronic and prolonged inactivity is a disaster for our bodies.

Unfortunately, exercise just doesn't cut it. Let's say you do an hour of dedicated exercise five times a week. That's a decent amount of training. Even still, if you have a desk job and commute to work, you're probably sitting for about 8 hours a day if not more. Add to that a couple of hours after dinner reading or watching TV. That hour in the gym is now starting to look pretty insignificant. The glaring reality is that the time that you spend sitting far outweighs the time you spend moving on your feet.

Even in the short term, too much sitting has an impact on your body. Simply sitting for more than four hours each day can:

  • Slow the metabolism. After 90 minutes, your metabolism slows down dramatically. This translates into a reduced caloric expenditure.

  • Reduce fat burning. The enzymes that help to break down body fat called lipoprotein lipase drop significantly - the research says by 90 per cent. I had to read that a couple of times to let it sink in.

  • Switch off leg muscles. Prolonged sitting shuts off electrical activity in the leg muscles and restricts blood flow. This compromises the elimination of toxins and delivery of nutrients to the muscles.

  • Impair insulin sensitivity. A study of young and fit adults (21 to 30 years old) found that just one day of prolonged sitting can cause significant reductions in whole body insulin sensitivity. Yikes.

  • Disrupt blood sugar and insulin levels. Here's a wake up call if you eat at your desk! (and I'll be honest, I do sometimes.) A recent study found that prolonged sitting around a meal can elevate blood glucose and insulin. Remarkably, just a 2 minute break of light walking every 20 minutes was enough to reduce plasma glucose and insulin by around 25 per cent. [2]

This isn't just about fat loss. If you move around more often, you'll see positive side effects that will benefit your training and day to day life, like:

  • More energy.

  • Less aches and pains.

  • Better posture (if you stand and move properly). Prolonged sitting also creates postural problems that becomes part of your normal movement pattern and structure over time. Scary, huh.

  • Stable hunger and appetite.

  • Better digestion and absorption of nutrients.

There's a simple an obvious solution. You need to:

  1. Reduce the total amount of time you spend sitting.

  2. Break long periods of sitting with motion.

Easier said than done, right?

Quick and easy tips that to start moving

1. On your feet!

Stand up now and then for a short period. This alone can have beneficial metabolic effects. Plan to rotate standing and sitting. If you know that you will be in a 2 hour meeting in the afternoon, make a conscious effort to get up and move around in the morning. Take opportunities to stand and walk. For example, stand on short train trips or for a quick chat. I like to use a sit to stand desk at my work station. I find that this is an excellent way to vary my sitting and standing patterns and add movement to my day. But be sensible about it - if all you do is shift from sitting to standing now and then in a day, that really misses the point. You can be just as motionless while you stand as when you sit. Sure, it's helps, but standing is no substitute for a short walk.

2. Talk a walk.

Just 2 minutes every 20 minutes is enough to stabilise blood sugar levels. Walk to the station, around the office, or take a 30 minute stroll at lunch. But how about the impact on your mental concentration? A short break actually enhances your productivity and creativity. It's a myth that you should stay put and miss your lunch break to do more work. Stan Efferding, touted as the world's strongest bodybuilder, is a big fan of a 10 minute walk three times a day immediately after eating to improve insulin sensitivity, nutrient partitioning and digestion, among many other noticeable benefits. This is an excellent, easy to follow practice that you can add to your daily routine.

3. Trick yourself.

Drink a 600 ml glass of water at your desk. Sooner or later, you will need to pee. Take this opportunity to refill your glass. It's a double win - more water and more movement.

4. Remind yourself.

If you tend to lose track of time while you work, set a timer on your computer or your phone to alert you when it's been 20 minutes.

5. Track yourself.

Use a pedometer or an app on your phone to count your steps. If you measure it, this will help to hold your accountable. The tried and true 10 000 steps a day is no panacea, but it's a useful baseline.

6. Rig the game.

Deliberately alter your environment so that you have no choice but to move. Put your stapler out of reach. Put some files or books on a different shelf. Make it so that you will need to move around as you complete your daily tasks. Plan a meeting across the floor, or walk to a colleague's office to ask a question rather than via email, etc. At home, do other things while you watch TV, for example, laundry, cooking, etc. Not all the time - it's ok to relax! Try this after a long day of sitting.

Keen to learn more?

For the latest research and plenty of excellent tips, head to the Get Australia Standing website.

End notes

[1] On average, adult Australians sleep about 7 hours a night, but many people, especially young adults, sleep much less than this. That's another part of the problem.

[2] The participants in this study were overweight and obese adults aged 45 to 65 years old. All the participants sat for about 2 hours, then ate a meal *, and then sat for another 5 hours after the meal and watched television or a DVD, read books, magazines, or newspapers, performed light paperwork, or worked on a laptop computer. But the control group minimised how often they moved, often getting up to use the bathroom. On the other hand, the experimental group sat for the same amount of time but added short 2 minute breaks of light to moderate intensity walking after 20 minutes. After the short activity break, the participants in the experimental group showed a 25 - 30 percent drop in plasma glucose and a 23 per cent drop in circulating insulin. The intensity didn't matter - it was the activity alone that made the difference. (* If you're interested, the meal was a 200 mL test drink consisted of 75 g carbohydrate (100% corn maltodextrin powder; Natural Health, Australia) and 50 g fat (Calogen; Nutricia, Australia). The specific nutritional components were energy, 3,195 kJ; fat, 50.0 g; saturated fat, 5 g; monounsaturated fat, 30.4 g; polyunsaturated fat, 14.3 g; carbohydrate, 75 g; total sugars, 12.8 g; protein, nil; fiber, <1 g; sodium, 46.9 mg; and water, 90 g. The drink included fat so that 1) the drink would better simulate a mixed meal and 2) slow the ingested glucose production to spread the plasma glucose and insulin responses over more of the 5 hour treatment period.)


  • Dunstan DW et al. Breaking Up Prolonged Sitting Reduces Postprandial Glucose and Insulin Responses. Diabetes Care. 2012 May; 35(5): 976-83.

  • Hamilton MT, Hamilton DG, Zderic TW. The role of low energy expenditure and sitting on obesity, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Diabetes. 2007; 56: 2655–2667.

  • Stephens BR, Granados K, Zderic TW, Hamilton MT, Braun B. Effects of 1 day of inactivity on insulin action in healthy men and women: interaction with energy intake. Metabolism 2011; 60: 941–949.