• Sitting disease is a serious health issue that can affects millions of Americans, however exercise snacks can counteract these affects.
  • Walking (2 minutes) and 15 bodyweight squats performed every 30 minutes increased protein synthesis compared to sitting all day.

  • Exercise snacks can be an easy way to improve health and improve muscle mass by increasing protein synthesis.

Like me, you probably have a sedentary job that requires sitting for long periods. This is commonly referred to as siting disease. There is not a day that goes by where some new research study is published about the dangers of sitting (i.e., sitting disease). Is sitting bad for you? The short answer is yes!

Sedentary lifestyle from sitting and watching TV for hours a day is associated with weight gain, elevated blood pressure, and increased risk of heart disease.

The Adverse Health Impacts of Sitting Disease

Common physical symptoms of sitting disease are hip pain from sitting, buttock pain from sitting on bone, hamstring pain from sitting too much, and back pain from sitting (i.e., poor posture). Furthermore, prolonged periods of sitting are associated with an early grave, poor glucose levels and triglycerides, and a larger waist circumference.  (Ekelund et al., 2016; Owen et al., 2010)

Tight hamstrings and hamstring tendinopathy can result from shortening the hamstring muscle from sitting too long. While sitting, your hamstring is contracted or is in a shortened position. If you suffer from hamstring pain, physical therapy recommended to alleviate this pain is to regularly do hamstring stretches throughout the day to lengthen the muscle.

However, getting up and moving around with some walking has been shown to counteract some of these effects. (Homer et al., 2017) Other devices, such as a standing desk, can also help counteract some of the effects of sitting all day long.

Sedentary lifestyle and Health

When you sit down all day, the blood pools in your lower extremities. A study in 10 healthy randomized males to sit for ~8.5 hours with and without hourly stair-based exercises involving ~14-20 seconds of three flights of stairs at a brisk pace. The group that took regular exercise breaks every hour had ~32% higher blood flow than the group that sat down all day. (Caldwell et al., 2021) Thus, getting up and moving around can be beneficial for health.


Exercise snacks are short bursts of activity that are less than 1 minute and are performed multiple times a day. (Jenkins et al., 2019; Rafiei et al., 2021) Less than a minute?? What is that going to do, you ask? The research on HIIT training (<30 seconds) has been shown to have similar health benefits as prolonged exercise.

Also, brief bursts of exercise seem to boost mood and cognition (Stenling et al., 2019), which may boost your productivity at work. Exercise snacks are a reasonable way to improve cardiovascular health and reduce the negative impacts of sitting. (Islam et al., 2022)


This large-scale study from four different countries included 44,350 adults measured physical activity ranging from 4 to 14.5 years. The main objective was to examine the associations between death and different combinations of moderate and vigorous activity and sedentary time.

Those with sedentary lifestyles were more likely to have an early death. Still, the negative effects of sitting were partially but not completely offset by 30 to 40 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise per day. (Ekelund et al., 2020)


Exercise snacks can be performed at work, home, school, etc. Taking the stairs is a great example of exercise snacks during work. Can taking small bursts of exercise result in added muscle size. 

A small study in older adults involved in a 28-day home-based intervention involving two daily bouts of body weight chair exercise (i.e., chair exercises were seated knee extensions of alternating legs, standing knee bends of alternating legs, marching on the spot, and standing calf raises) involving 1-min bouts of maximum repetitions. The exercise snacks chair exercises resulted in greater gains in leg press strength and muscle size compared to the control group. (Perkin et al., 2019)

At the molecular level, brief vigorous bouts of exercise snacks such as stair climbing improved satellite cell content and myonuclear number, as well as an increased capillary number in patients with coronary artery disease over 12 weeks. (Lim et al., 2021) Check out the article here on how increasing capillaries may benefit muscle growth.


Astronauts that go into space lose muscle and have a reduction in protein synthesis. NASA is interested in maintaining muscle while astronauts are in space, so they have funded studies on bed rest. 7 days of bed rest resulted in a ~4% decrease in leg muscle mass and reduced muscle protein synthesis. (Drummond et al., 2012)

Sitting all day induces “anabolic resistance,” which means the muscle doesn’t respond to protein synthesis. (Paulussen et al., 2021) For example, older adults have ~ 10% less protein digestion and absorption rates than younger adults. (Paulussen et al., 2021)

Consuming adequate protein and getting exercise can prevent some of the negative consequences of being inactive. (Oikawa et al., 2019) Adequate protein and exercise are important for muscle health; these factors become even more crucial as a person ages. Decreases in muscle mass begins by approximately 3%–8% per decade after age 30. (Volpi et al., 2004)


Researchers wanted to examine the effects of sitting and how moving around can affect protein synthesis. The subjects consumed a high protein diet during the study, and the subjects were your (average age was 23). Subjects were randomized into three groups all which consisted of 7.5 hours of sitting:

  • ·      7.5 hours of uninterrupted sitting (SIT)
  • ·      Sitting interspersed with 15 bodyweight squats every 30 minutes (SQUAT)
  • ·      Sitting interspersed with 2 minutes of walking every 30 minutes (WALK)

The researchers found that both bodyweight squats and walking increased protein synthesis compared to sitting all day long. (Moore et al., 2022) This is important because it shows that brief bouts of exercise performed frequently throughout the day can elevate protein synthesis compared to a sedentary lifestyle. Interestingly, the subjects decreased their step count while in the study. 

hip pain from sitting sitting down jobs back pain from sitting hamstring pain from sitting too much sitting disease is sitting bad for you physical symptoms of sitting too much exercise snacking exercise snacks exercise snack Sitting Disease Symptoms

Importantly, before the study, they walked about 8,000 steps per day but decreased to 2,100 in the squat group and 5,700 hundred in the walking group. The group that sat all day long had the greatest reduction in protein synthesis, which is in agreement with other studies showing reducing steps to 750 to 1,500 steps per day reduces protein synthesis by 13-16%. (Oikawa et al., 2019)

Sitting Disease Symptoms

In conclusion, sitting disease, or sedentary lifestyle, is a term used to describe the negative health effects of sitting for too long. It can cause a variety of health problems, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer, and metabolic syndrome. Symptoms of sitting disease include weight gain, increased waist circumference, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high blood sugar, fatigue, muscle weakness, back pain, neck pain, joint pain, mood swings, anxiety, and depression. To prevent sitting disease and sedentary lifestyle, reduce the amount of time you spend sitting each day and aim to stand up and move around every 20-30 minutes.


Caldwell, H. G., Coombs, G. B., Rafiei, H., Ainslie, P. N., & Little, J. P. (2021). Hourly staircase sprinting exercise “snacks” improve femoral artery shear patterns but not flow-mediated dilation or cerebrovascular regulation: a pilot study. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 46(5), 521-529. %M 33242251

Drummond, M. J., Dickinson, J. M., Fry, C. S., Walker, D. K., Gundermann, D. M., Reidy, P. T., Timmerman, K. L., Markofski, M. M., Paddon-Jones, D., Rasmussen, B. B., & Volpi, E. (2012). Bed rest impairs skeletal muscle amino acid transporter expression, mTORC1 signaling, and protein synthesis in response to essential amino acids in older adults. American journal of physiology. Endocrinology and metabolism, 302(9), E1113-E1122.

Ekelund, U., Steene-Johannessen, J., Brown, W. J., Fagerland, M. W., Owen, N., Powell, K. E., Bauman, A., & Lee, I. M. (2016). Does physical activity attenuate, or even eliminate, the detrimental association of sitting time with mortality? A harmonised meta-analysis of data from more than 1 million men and women. Lancet, 388(10051), 1302-1310.


Ekelund, U., Tarp, J., Fagerland, M. W., Johannessen, J. S., Hansen, B. H., Jefferis, B. J., Whincup, P. H., Diaz, K. M., Hooker, S., Howard, V. J., Chernofsky, A., Larson, M. G., Spartano, N., Vasan, R. S., Dohrn, I. M., Hagströmer, M., Edwardson, C., Yates, T., Shiroma, E. J., . . . Lee, I. M. (2020). Joint associations of accelero-meter measured physical activity and sedentary time with all-cause mortality: a harmonised meta-analysis in more than 44 000 middle-aged and older individuals. Br J Sports Med, 54(24), 1499-1506.

Homer, A. R., Fenemor, S. P., Perry, T. L., Rehrer, N. J., Cameron, C. M., Skeaff, C. M., & Peddie, M. C. (2017). Regular activity breaks combined with physical activity improve postprandial plasma triglyceride, nonesterified fatty acid, and insulin responses in healthy, normal weight adults: A randomized crossover trial. Journal of clinical lipidology, 11(5), 1268-1279.e1261.

Islam, H., Gibala, M. J., & Little, J. P. (2022). Exercise Snacks: A Novel Strategy to Improve Cardiometabolic Health. Exerc Sport Sci Rev, 50(1), 31-37.

Jenkins, E. M., Nairn, L. N., Skelly, L. E., Little, J. P., & Gibala, M. J. (2019). Do stair climbing exercise “snacks” improve cardiorespiratory fitness? Applied physiology, nutrition, and metabolism = Physiologie appliquee, nutrition et metabolisme, 44(6), 681-684.

Lim, C., Dunford, E. C., Valentino, S. E., Oikawa, S. Y., McGlory, C., Baker, S. K., Macdonald, M. J., & Phillips, S. M. (2021). Both Traditional and Stair Climbing-based HIIT Cardiac Rehabilitation Induce Beneficial Muscle Adaptations. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 53(6), 1114-1124.

Moore, D. R., Williamson, E. P., Hodson, N., Estafanos, S., Mazzulla, M., Kumbhare, D., & Gillen, J. B. (2022). Walking or body weight squat “activity snacks” increase dietary amino acid utilization for myofibrillar protein synthesis during prolonged sitting. J Appl Physiol (1985), 133(3), 777-785.


Oikawa, S. Y., Holloway, T. M., & Phillips, S. M. (2019). The Impact of Step Reduction on Muscle Health in Aging: Protein and Exercise as Countermeasures. Front Nutr, 6, 75.

Owen, N., Healy, G. N., Matthews, C. E., & Dunstan, D. W. (2010). Too much sitting: the population health science of sedentary behavior. Exerc Sport Sci Rev, 38(3), 105-113.

Paulussen, K. J. M., McKenna, C. F., Beals, J. W., Wilund, K. R., Salvador, A. F., & Burd, N. A. (2021). Anabolic Resistance of Muscle Protein Turnover Comes in Various Shapes and Sizes. Front Nutr, 8, 615849.

Perkin, O. J., McGuigan, P. M., & Stokes, K. A. (2019). Exercise Snacking to Improve Muscle Function in Healthy Older Adults: A Pilot Study. Journal of Aging Research, 2019, 7516939.

Rafiei, H., Omidian, K., Myette-Côté, É., & Little, J. P. (2021). Metabolic Effect of Breaking Up Prolonged Sitting with Stair Climbing Exercise Snacks. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 53(1), 150-158.

Stenling, A., Moylan, A., Fulton, E., & Machado, L. (2019). Effects of a Brief Stair-Climbing Intervention on Cognitive Performance and Mood States in Healthy Young Adults [Original Research]. Frontiers in Psychology, 10.

Volpi, E., Nazemi, R., & Fujita, S. (2004). Muscle tissue changes with aging. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care, 7(4), 405-410.

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