Are you sitting down? If you are, you've got plenty of company. You are engaged in an un-activity that the typical American now spends an amazing amount of time doing. The average American is seated for 12 to 14 hours each day: behind the wheel of a car (1 to 2 hours); watching television (3 hours); and parked behind a desk, working either on the job or at home (7 to 9 hours). Add an hour of sitting at mealtimes and 7 hours of shut-eye, and you're looking at an astonishing 19 to 22 hours of almost complete downtime.
Unlike our ancestors, who toiled from sunrise to sunset, we barely budge from our seats. Through the genius of remote controls, dishwashers, drive-thrus, e-mail and Internet shopping, we've engineered physical activity almost completely out of our lives—so much so that some experts estimate that we burn up to 700 fewer calories each day than we did just 30 years ago. That adds up to well over a pound a week.
The No. 1 excuse people give for not exercising is, you guessed it, no time. But closer inspection reveals that Americans actually have more—that's right, more—free time than ever. We've just been using it sitting down—with a bag of chips—in front of the television.
Studies show that we have almost 5 hours more free time per week than we did in the 1960s. It only feels like less because we cram more tasks into each second while we're on the job. "Thanks" to technology, we can skim the news, call a friend, write a report, plan our next vacation and buy Bruce Springsteen's new album in less than an hour—without leaving our chairs. When we get home, we feel so frazzled, so mentally exhausted, that we plop down and watch TV for as much as five-plus hours a day (there goes that free time), according to a study from Ball State University, where researchers actually sat in people's homes and recorded their viewing habits.
Channel surfing is especially hard on your health. In a six-year study of more than 50,000 women, Harvard researchers found that for every two hours a day they spent watching television, the women were 23 percent more likely to be obese and 14 percent more likely to have diabetes. It's a vicious cycle: We sit, we eat, we gain weight, we have no energy—so we keep sitting and the cycle continues.
We can break the cycle by turning off the television and getting the ball rolling in the opposite direction. The Harvard scientists reported that each hour per day spent fitness walking instead of watching TV can reduce obesity by 24 percent and diabetes by 34 percent. Even puttering around the house for a couple of hours in the evening lowers diabetes risk by 12 percent.