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But it's not just your heart that's at risk from too much sitting; your hips, spine, and shoulders could also suffer.

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"A person may hit the gym every day, but if he's sitting a good deal of the rest of the time, he's probably not leading an overall active life," says Katzmarzyk.

You might dismiss this as scientific semantics, but energy expenditure statistics support Katzmarzyk's notion.

In a British study published in 1953, scientists examined two groups of workers: bus drivers and trolley conductors.

At first glance, the two occupations appeared to be pretty similar.

A 2006 University of Minnesota study found that from 1980 to 2000, the percentage of people who reported exercising regularly remained the same—but the amount of time people spent sitting rose by 8 percent.

Now consider how much we sit today compared with, say, 160 years ago.

In a clever study, Dutch researchers created a sort of historical theme park and recruited actors to play 1850s Australian settlers for a week.

The men did everything from chop wood to forage for food, and the scientists compared their activity levels with those of modern office workers.

In a 2007 report, University of Missouri scientists said that people with the highest levels of nonexercise activity (but little to no actual "exercise") burned significantly more calories a week than those who ran 35 miles a week but accumulated only a moderate amount of nonexercise activity.

"It can be as simple as standing more," Katzmarzyk says.

D., Hamilton's colleague at Pennington, the nation's leading obesity research center.

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