A new study supports mounting evidence that our favorite default position – sitting – is likely to have lethal consequences to our health.

Standing up more often may reduce your chances of dying within three years, even if you are otherwise physically active, a study of more than 200,000 people published in Archives of Internal Medicine shows. The study found that adults who sat 11 or more hours per day had a 40 percent increased risk of dying in the next three years compared with those who sat for fewer than four hours a day. This was after taking into account their physical activity, weight and health status.

For those of us with desk jobs, this is disheartening news. Even spending our lunch break at the gym won’t cancel out the health risk of sitting for hours before and afterward.

"These results have important public health implications," said study lead author Dr. Hidde van der Ploeg, a senior research fellow at the University of Sydney's School of Public Health. "That morning walk or trip to the gym is still necessary, but it's also important to avoid prolonged sitting. Our results suggest the time people spend sitting at home, work and in traffic should be reduced by standing or walking more."

The results are the first landmark findings to be published from the Sax Institute's 45 and Up Study, the largest ongoing study of healthy aging in the Southern Hemisphere. They showed physical activity is still beneficial: inactive people who sat the most had double the risk of dying within three years than the active people who sat least. And among the physically inactive group, those who sat the most had nearly one-third higher chance of dying than those who sat least.

The new research finding is no fluke. Other studies suggest that sitting for long periods results in higher levels of C-reactive protein in our bodies.  C-reactive protein is a marker of inflammation, an immune response that normally helps our bodies fight off infection. Chronically high levels of inflammation may damage cells and lead to health problems.

The studies have found that taking even short (5 minutes or less) breaks from a sit-down job is associated with smaller waists, less insulin resistance and lower levels of inflammation.

So what’s a desk jockey to do?

The American Institute for Cancer Research recommends the following tips for breaking up your sitting sessions:

  • Set a timer on your computer to remind you every hour that it’s time to step away from your desk, and take a short walk down the hall.
  • Instead of emailing a co-worker, chat with him or her over a walk.
  • If possible, stand up and walk around during phone calls and meetings.
  • Keep light hand weights in your office to use while reading email or talking on the phone.

Some advice I’ve found helpful:

  • When watching TV at home, don’t park yourself on the couch. Instead, get a yoga mat and exercise ball do stretches and flexes.
  • Are you in the habit of catching up with family members via long-distance phone chats? Do it while walking the dog or just strolling around the neighborhood. You’ll get the bonus benefit of extra Vitamin D from the few extra minutes of sun exposure.

Do you have a tip for breaking up long periods of sitting? Share it with us!