Why “Sitting is the New Smoking” and How to Mitigate it While Working from Anywhere

Workplaces worldwide, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, have been becoming sedentaryOpens in a new tab.. Research has shown that prolonged sitting can lead to various health issues. For instance, it can negatively impact mental healthOpens in a new tab., affecting productivity. Due to the raised risk for obesity and heart diseases, Dr. James Levine coined the phrase “sitting is the new smoking.”

Why is sitting is the new smoking? ‘Sitting is the new smoking’ highlights the health risks associated with prolonged periods of sitting. Research has shown that sitting for extended periods of time can increase the risk of various health problems, including obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and even some forms of cancer. Sitting for hours on end can also lead to poor posture and muscle imbalances, which can cause pain and discomfort.

To fight this trend, we must understand how movement helps improve health. Our bodies are designed for mobility, which is vital for overall well-being. In today’s world of working from anywhere, regular movement breaks are crucial. You can do this by taking short walks, stretching, or doing light exercises. Investing in a standing desk or a walking machine can likewise reduce inactivity.

Read on to learn about sedentary behavior and how to mitigate it while working from anywhere.

The Dangers of Sitting: Why Sitting is the New Smoking

Working from anywhere has become a top priority for employees. This is true for those who value freedom and flexibility to choose their workplace and schedule. But working from anywhere has its limits and challenges.

Dr. James LevineOpens in a new tab. is a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic. He argues that our chairs are out to harm and kill us, and describes sitting as more dangerous than smoking. He stresses that sitting claims more lives than human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

Here are some examples of the dangers of sitting:

1. Increased Risk of Cardiovascular Diseases

Have you ever felt a little tenser after sitting at your desk all day? Inactivity could lead to an increased risk of high blood pressure, even when your vitals show normal readings.

There is sufficient evidence behind the phrase “sitting is the new smoking.” Studies show people who sit for more than 8 hours a day have a higher risk of premature death. This figure is compared to those who sit less.

Reem GhannoumOpens in a new tab., a learning and development consultant, shares:

“You may be thinking, ‘But I work out several times per week.’ The research shows that though exercise is good for you, it doesn’t negate the damage done by extended periods of sitting.”

2. Poor Posture

Sitting for long periods can put a strain on the back and neck. This effectively causes a weakened posture and poor circulation. These, in turn, lead to chronic pain and decreased mobility.

Such observation is true for those who sit in chairs that are:

  • Poorly designed
  • Poorly adjusted for their body

That’s why it’s vital to find ways to reduce your time spent sitting. That way, you can maintain optimal health and well-being.

Nmami AgarwalOpens in a new tab., CEO of the IGNITE group, reminds:

“Sitting with poor posture can take a toll on both your mental and physical health. It can lead to headaches, stress, and low mood, and even contribute to depression and decreased self-confidence. Taking breaks to move your body every 20 minutes can help alleviate these negative effects. As staying in a static position for too long can result in discomfort and make your poor posture a permanent issue.”

3. Decreased Metabolic Function

Prolonged sitting can lead to a decrease in metabolic functionOpens in a new tab.. This drop can increase the risk of obesity and related health problems.

This negative body impact can be observed when managing glucose, insulin, and triglycerides. Insulin resistance may develop, which can later become type 2 diabetes.

“After just 30 minutes of sitting, your metabolism slows down by 90%,” says Gavin BradleyOpens in a new tab.. He is the director of Active Working, a group dedicated to reducing excessive sitting. He explains that when you sit for a long time, these things occur:

  • Enzymes move unhealthy fat from your arteries to your muscles, where it can be burned. These enzymes slow down.
  • Your lower body muscles stop working,
  • After 2 hours of sitting, your levels of good cholesterol decrease by 20%.

Interestingly, a 5-minute break and getting up can disrupt the slowing down process. Moving can help improve how our bodies handle these substances.


The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted obesity as a major concern for public health. This is for two key reasons.

First, obesity is a significant risk factor for severe COVID-19. Second, remote work environments have led to weight gain. This is colloquially called the “COVID-19 pounds.”

This weight gain may be due to obvious or hidden factors. Either way, it highlights the need to address sedentary behavior in the remote workplace.

Diabetes mellitus

The strong link between sitting for extended periods and diabetes is documented and proven.


A sedentary lifestyle can raise the chances of developing unhealthy lipid levels for men and women. Sitting for over 9 hours a day can also increase the risk for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

Addressing sedentary behavior in remote work is crucial to prevent these health issues. Doing so will help employees stay productive longer.

4. Musculoskeletal Problems

An incorrect ergonomic setup is a huge factor in various health problems. Excessive sitting during working hoursOpens in a new tab. has been linked to:

  • Tiredness during the day
  • Reduced job satisfaction
  • Discomfort in the shoulders, lower back, thighs, and knees
  • Sarcopenia (a loss of muscle mass) by 33% for each hour of sitting

A sedentary lifestyle is also linked to higher risks of certain types of cancer. This includes colon, ovarian, prostate, and uterine cancer.

As the work-from-anywhere setup abounds, employers can garner a reputation for caring for their employees. How? They can do so by making ergonomics a priority. Simultaneously, they can improve operations with:

  • Better work quality
  • Better efficiency
  • Higher productivity levels

Understand the patterns of movement during prolonged sitting. This can help craft preventive strategies to avoid discomfort and maintain a fit body.

5. Mental Health Issues

Sedentary time at work or in general can lead to a higher risk of depression or anxietyOpens in a new tab.. Studies have shown that spending more time sitting can lead to:

  • Low mood
  • Decreased self-esteem
  • Increased stress levels

The lack of physical activity can also disrupt the delicate balance of hormones in our bodies. This event contributes to feelings of anxiety or depression. These detrimental effects on our mental well-being can pop up in as little as seven daysOpens in a new tab..

Interested in boosting your workers’ mental health while working from anywhere? You may want to read “Keeping Remote Employee Health in MindOpens in a new tab..”

Mentally Passive and Mentally Active while Sitting

Spending too much time on mentally passive sedentary behaviors may increase the risk of depression. Two examples are watching TV or sitting. In contrast, activities that require mental engagement were unlikely to do so. Some samples are reading or attending a meeting.

The link between sedentary behavior and depression could be from:

  • Reduced social interactions
  • Less time to do physical activities, which may help fight or prevent depression

Reduced Cognitive Function

Spending more time inactive may lead to a decline in cognitive abilityOpens in a new tab.. This particularly concerns overall brain function and processing speed.

Mixing light physical activity into sitting breaks can keep sugar levels in check. It can also keep your brain in tip-top shape. This will preserve brain function and might delay cognitive decline as we age.

Guillaume MarioleOpens in a new tab., CEO of the IGNITE group, suggests:

“Here’s a few small changes we can implement which will make a big difference: 

  • We spend a lot of time on our mobile phones, so why not pace the corridor while making a call?
  • Practice the sit-stand switch; alternate between sitting and standing every 30 minutes.
  • Stand up when someone comes to your desk at work. 
  • Stay hydrated! Drink plenty of water. Not only is hydration important for your health. This will require you to walk over to the water dispenser (and the toilet) throughout the day.
  • Have your meetings standing up or walking instead of sitting down. Some leading companies even implement this as policy! This will help to keep you better focused, meaning the meetings are generally shorter as well as getting the health benefits of standing.
  • Reassess your work station. Maybe an ergonomic solution is required so that you can be standing whilst working during certain periods.

Remember, it’s all about a lifestyle!”

Do you want to motivate employees to adopt healthy lifestyle choices? Read “How to Create your Own Workplace Wellness ChallengeOpens in a new tab..”

How to Reduce Sitting Time While Working from Anywhere

If we let things be, we are on the path to “sitting death. This is falling prey to the perils of excessive sitting. We need a more sustainable approach to mix physical activity into our daily routines. We should avoid solely treating it as a separate activity out of work.

Here are simple tips to reduce your time spent sitting while working:

Movement Breaks

First, frequent movement breaks are vital throughout the day. Do this by taking short walks or trying light physical activities.

Additionally, optimize your working environment for movement. Set up a standing or treadmill desk. You can also use a comfortable, ergonomically designed chair.

Finally, it is a good idea to add movement to your daily routine. You can do simple exercises such as stretching and yoga during breaks. You can also set a timer to remind yourself to get up and move around often.

In a work-from-anywhere setup, you can even manage breaks by:

  • Walking your dog
  • Going for a bike ride
  • Standing and moving during a specific cue like a TV commercial
  • Standing when you talk on the phone, text, or while drinking coffee
  • Making it inconvenient to sit. For example, place the trash can, coffee pot, printer, and other items away from your desk.

These tips can help reduce sitting time. Following them, reap the health benefits of being more active while working from home.

As Dr. David KatzOpens in a new tab., president of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, puts it:

“Every hour spent sitting is not an hour spent standing, walking, or doing any of the most healthful options. A 5-minute break for motion once an hour is apt to go a long way toward reverse engineering the harms of sitting, and is likely to work better than coffee for focus and productivity.”

We have also tackled solutions to general health-related problems in a remote setup. Check out How to Optimize Mental and Physical Health in Work from AnywhereOpens in a new tab..”

Exercise Strategies to Combat Sitting

Exercise is one of the best strategies to combat sitting. In addition, you can spice up your work-from-home routine with some fun and free online fitness classes. Whether you prefer to exercise solo or with a workout buddy, there’s something for everyone.

  • Aerobic activities, like jogging, walking, cycling, or swimming, can help boost heart health.
  • Strength training is vital for building muscle mass and preventing injuries.
  • Stretching is crucial in increasing flexibility and improving posture.

Regular physical activity has many health benefits. That includes reducing the risk of:

  • Cancer
  • Organ damage
  • Other diseases associated with a sedentary lifestyle

Think of the unfortunate consequences of a lifetime of sitting at desks or on sofas. They can’t be undone by just exercising a few times a week. This is the inconvenient truth in today’s workplace. Many people remain seated at desks or in front of computers for a huge amount of time.

It’s crucial to prioritize initiatives that boost our health and well-being at work. Doing so is way better than contributing to physical inactivity, stress, and burnout. By staying active, you can reduce orthopedic strains, regardless of where you work.

Do you want to produce happier and more motivated workers? We have an article just for that. Read our piece, What is a Sustainable Workplace?Opens in a new tab.

How to Optimize Your Working Environment to Mitigate Sitting

There has been more recognition of “deskercise” routines to stay fit when working from anywhere.

Keeping active while working at a desk is possible. It has also become a widely popular trend. There’s an influx of innovative devices and unique gadgets. They help office workers maintain their fitness without stepping away from their desks.

Investing in Ergonomic Furniture and Accessories

Tweaking your workspace can mitigate the negative effects of sitting. You can invest in ergonomic furniture and accessories, like an adjustable chair with lumbar support. You can also opt for a standing desk or a footrest. If you can, invest in a monitor arm or laptop stand to ease neck strain.

These pieces of furniture promote good posture while seated. A good stance can ease the strain on your spine, neck, and shoulders when sitting for long hours.

Without ergonomics in the workplaceOpens in a new tab., employees will likely have aches and pains. They will feel tired and may develop health-related issues.

Decorating Your Workspace with Plants

Decorate your remote office to make it comfortable and motivating. Whether you prefer a minimalist look or a pop of color, personalize your space. You can also create a healthier workspace by adding plants.

The benefits of adding greens to your workplace are:

  • Better productivity and mood
  • Strengthens attention span
  • Improves air quality and boosts immunity
  • Relieves stress and adds serenity to your workplace
  • Reduces the amount of time spent sitting

Surrounding yourself with elements of nature can help avoid excessive sitting. For example, watering, pruning, or even appreciating your plants requires you to stand up. You move around as you care for them.

Tweaking the area can boost aesthetics and overall well-being. These initiatives can help mitigate the effects of prolonged sitting.

Megan RosenOpens in a new tab., a director of operations, highlights why you should care for your workers’ health:

“As an employer or manager, the answer to how to increase your employees’ productivity is not what you’d expect. Have them work less.  Less does not mean have them produce less. But rather, shift your equation of ‘hard work’ from hours spent at the desk to hours spent producing work.

The Mayo Clinic has determined that 50 to 70% of Americans spend 4 hours or more sitting each day. If the average American were to cut his or her daily sitting to fewer than 3 hours a day? He or she would increase life expectancy by 2 years.”

Do you want tips on improving the efficiency of your workers? We have written “25 Factors that Affect Workers’ ProductivityOpens in a new tab.” to help employees adjust well.

Related Questions

  1. Do under-desk exercise machines work?

Under-desk ellipticals are convenient but have limits. They provide low resistance and only benefit the lower body. They are not effective for functional fitness. Poor posture can result in injury. That’s why proper setup and ergonomic chair use are crucial.

Under-desk ellipticals can be effective for staying active. But they are not a substitute for a well-rounded exercise regimen.

  1. What should be the maximum sitting time per day?

The recommended maximum daily sitting is 2-3 hours at a time. This duration comes with regular breaks for physical activity.

Prolonged sitting of more than 7 hours is common for many adults. This sedentary behavior is defined as sitting for 4+ hours daily. It is like smoking a pack of cigarettes in terms of its health risks.

Steve Todd

Steve Todd, founder of Open Sourced Workplace and is a recognized thought leader in workplace strategy and the future of work. With a passion for work from anywhere, Steve has successfully implemented transformative strategies that enhance productivity and employee satisfaction. Through Open Sourced Workplace, he fosters collaboration among HR, facilities management, technology, and real estate professionals, providing valuable insights and resources. As a speaker and contributor to various publications, Steve remains dedicated to staying at the forefront of workplace innovation, helping organizations thrive in today's dynamic work environment.

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