Average New Yorker Spends More Than Seven Hours Per Day Sitting

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Stella Yi, PhD, MPH

New York University Langone School of Medicine,
Department of Population Health
New York, NY 10016

MedicalResearch: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Dr. Yi: Sedentary behaviors, such as sitting time, are an emerging risk factor in the field of physical activity epidemiology. Recent studies have demonstrated the negative health consequences associated with extended sitting time, including metabolic disturbances and decreased life expectancy independent of the effects of regular exercise.

We also assessed mean values of self-reported sitting time to characterize these behaviors in a diverse, urban sample of adults. The average New York City resident sits more than seven hours a day—greatly exceeding the three hours or more per day that is associated with decreased life expectancy.

Among the findings:

  • At the lower economic end, individuals spent 6.3 hours per day sitting, while those with higher incomes spent 8.2 hours per day sitting
  • College graduates spent 8.2 hours per day sitting, compared with 5.5 hours per day for those with less than a high school education
  • Whites spent on average 7.8 hours per day sitting, African Americans spent 7.4 hours sitting, Hispanics spent 5.4 hours sitting, and Asian Americans spent 7.9 hours per day sitting
  • Sitting time was highest in Manhattan, compared to other boroughs.

In the current analysis, we also assessed the validity of a two-question survey method of sitting time during waking hours using accelerometers to measure sedentary time in a subsample of our study participants. The correlation between sitting time reported in the survey and accelerometer-measured sedentary time was modest (r=0.32, p<0.01) with wide limits of agreement. We interpreted this to mean that while self-reported sitting might be useful at the population-level to provide rankings and subgroups, it may be limited in assessing an individual’s actual behavior.

MedicalResearch: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Dr. Yi: Sitting is distinct from a lack of recreational or non-recreational physical activity and may potentially impact health outcomes via alternative biological mechanisms. Research in this area has given rise to the ‘inactivity physiology paradigm,’ or that “sitting too much is not the same as lack of exercise, and as such, has its own unique metabolic consequences” such as decreased lipoprotein lipase activity in skeletal muscles in the legs (Hamilton et al., 2008). Individuals who exercise regularly but are still sedentary for several hours a day may have a risk of adverse health outcomes that is higher than would be expected given their overall physical activity levels.

Despite this, there are no formal recommendations on how much sitting time is detrimental to health outcomes. Clinicians and patients should use an individual and tailored approach to decreasing sitting time based on age, mobility and cardiometabolic health. It has been suggested that taking breaks and standing up to walk around in between sitting times may be beneficial.

MedicalResearch: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Dr. Yi: Interventions that introduce breaks in sitting time with short walks are feasible, particularly in areas with high walkability scores. This highlights the potential for intervention through locating worksites in walkable neighborhoods around the U.S., and to consider walkability in the design of new business districts. In addition to promoting walking breaks among workers in walkable neighborhoods, other potential interventions include putting sit-stand desks in offices, holding walking meetings, promoting stair use, and encouraging movement during television time, approaches which have not yet been fully characterized in the literature.

Further, specific public health activities to reduce sitting time should consider cultural and socioeconomic differences, sex, and age, as well as the time of day the sitting is occurring. For example, whites and Asian Americans have the highest sitting times, but Asian Americans tend to hold occupations at both ends of the socioeconomic spectrum. Asian Americans hold desk jobs where sitting may be addressed by broad workplace wellness programs, but interventions should also be targeted toward jobs in commercial settings like nail salons or taxi driving, which offer little opportunity for reducing sitting time.


Yi SS, Bartley KF, Firestone MJ, Lee KK, Eisenhower DL. Self-Reported Sitting Time in New York City Adults, The Physical Activity and Transit Survey, 2010–2011. Prev Chronic Dis 2015;12:140488. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5888/pcd12.140488.

Stella Yi, PhD, MPH, New York University Langone School of Medicine,, Department of Population Health, & New York, NY 10016 (2015). Average New Yorker Spends More Than Seven Hours Per Day Sitting