Diabetes Forecast

Greater Risk of Death from Long Periods of Sitting

By Matt McMillen , ,


What to Know

If you spend the bulk of your waking hours on the couch or sitting at a desk, you won’t reap the health benefits of a more active lifestyle, such as improved heart health and lower blood glucose levels. But how much sitting is too much? How often should you get up and move around? Does daily exercise exempt you from concerns about long periods spent seated? This new study sought to answer these questions.

The Study

Researchers recruited 7,985 adults ages 45 and older, including 1,158 with type 1 or type 2 diabetes. For seven days, each participant wore an accelerometer (a device which monitors movement) during waking hours. That allowed the researchers to establish the participants’activity patterns, including how long they sat each day. The researchers then tracked the participants’ health for an average of four years. Their goal: To determine whether the amount of time they sat could predict their risk of an early death. The researchers also investigated the health impact of prolonged sitting versus sitting broken up by intervals of activity.

The Results

On average, participants sat during 77 percent of their day. The most sedentary among them were the most likely to die early. Those who sat for 13 hours or more were twice as likely to die early as those who sat for fewer than 11 hours. Regular exercise provided little protection for those who sat for long, uninterrupted periods. However, participants who moved every 30 minutes lowered their risk of dying compared with those who stayed seated for stretches of half an hour or longer, even if their total sitting time remained the same.


Many of us are stuck in our chairs at work, then glued to our couches at home. Such prolonged sitting can harm your health, possibly because of the heart risks, so your goal should be to sit less and move more. If you must spend numerous hours seated, however, you can reduce the harm by getting up and moving briefly every 30 minutes. Do this even if you exercise regularly. Your daily workout won’t protect you from the hazards of long bouts of uninterrupted sitting.

Patterns of Sedentary Behavior and Mortality in U.S. Middle-Aged and Older Adults.” Keith M. Diaz, PhD; Virginia J. Howard, PhD; Brent Hutto, MSPH; Natalie Colabianchi, PhD; John E. Vena, PhD; Monika M. Safford, MD; Steven N. Blair, PED; and Steven P. Hooker, PhD. Annals of Internal Medicine, published online September 12, 2017.

The information on this screen does not take the place of care from your doctor or other health care provider. If you have general questions about diabetes or diabetes-related research, e-mail askada@diabetes.org or call 1-800-DIABETES (800-342-2382).



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