You’ve reached content that’s exclusive to AARP members.

To continue, you’ll need to become an AARP member. Join now, and you’ll have access to all the great content and features in Staying Sharp, plus more AARP member benefits.


Already a member?

Want to read more? Create an account on

A healthy lifestyle helps protect the brain. Make brain health a habit and register on to access Staying Sharp.

Login to Unlock Access

Not Registered?

5 Ways Couch Time May Be Bad for You

Long hours spent sitting may affect your mood, your stress levels and more


Add to My Favorites
My Favorites page is currently unavailable.

Add to My Favorites

Added to My Favorites


We know you love your comfy couch or your favorite chair, but sitting for hours every day is doing your brain and body no favors. Long stretches of inactivity may negatively impact ​​your body and mind.

“In my view, the inactivity associated with the couch is a major culprit in poor health,” says ​​Charles E. Matthews, a senior researcher at the National Cancer Institute and the author of several studies on sedentary behavior and health.

Matthews and colleagues asked 2,640 U.S. adults to recall a full day’s activities during two months in 2019. Those age​s​ 50-69 spent​​​​ ​four​ hours a day in front of a television or computer screen. That number rose to ​five​ hours a day among those 70-74, which counted for more than half their free time, the researchers reported in 2021 in Medicine & Science in Sports​​ & Exercise. Your risk of serious illness goes up after about two hours of TV a day, Matthews says. Reducing that by even an hour a day and going for a brisk walk instead will help improve your health.

Here are some other ways in which too much couch time can be harmful. 

1. Makes you forgetful

​​​Regular physical activity is one of the main pillars of brain health for a reason. Several studies have pointed to the ​​benefits of moving regularly. In a study published in​​​​ 2015 in the Brazilian Journal of Medical and Biological Research, researchers tested a six-month exercise program on 46 healthy, sedentary older men. The men sat for an average of nearly 12 hours a day — “A long time!” coauthor Hanna Karen Antun​​es, a professor of biosciences at the Universidade Federal de São Paulo, noted in an email. Her team found that exercise three times a week made a big difference in the men’s attitude — they had more vitality and​​ slept better, she noted. And it resulted in a 21 percent improvement in their performance on memory tests, including markedly better planning and reasoning skills, attention, verbal memory and learning. As their heart​s​ and lungs grew stronger from exercise, the participants experienced improved blood flow to the brain. “I tell older adults that exercise is like a pill,” Antunes wrote. “It makes you healthy, it’s low cost and it’s easy.”

2. Affects your mood

Feeling down? It could be the hours you spend chained to your desk chair. In​​​​​​​​ an Australian study, researchers observed nearly 3,400 government workers and found that the longer they sat during the day, the more likely they were to have moderate psychological distress, such as feeling nervous and hopeless. In particular, sitting more than six hours a day caused moderate distress among men and moderate to high distress among women, compared with workers who sat less than three hours a day, according to the study, published in 2013 in Mental Health and Physical Activity. Consider this one more reason to take a mood-lifting walk on your lunch break or a stress-relieving exercise class after work. 

3. Spikes your blood sugar

Too much sitting around and not enough moving does a number on your blood sugar level, according to ​​a​​ University of Florida study published in 2017 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine​​. The findings show that a sedentary lifestyle is associated with an increase in blood sugar, even among adults who are at a healthy weight, putting them at risk for prediabetes or diabetes. Data from more than 1,000 slender adults indicated that those who reported getting little physical activity were more likely to have a blood sugar level of 5.7 or above, which is high enough to be considered prediabetes by the American Diabetes Association. An analysis of dozens of ​​studies reported in 2020 in Sports Medicine found that people who added bouts of physical activity to break up prolonged sitting had improved glucose levels. Studies​​ have linked high blood sugar to problems with thinking and memory, according to a review of 14​​ studies published in 2020 in Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports. 

4. Increases your risk for Alzheimer’s disease

Couch potatoes, beware: You could be increasing your risk of dementia. Physical inactivity is one of the top seven risk factors for Alzheimer’s and the easiest one to do something about. A review of 21 studies found that meeting the World Health Organization’s recommendation of at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity physical activity was associated with lower risk for Alzheimer’s disease. The 20​​22 report in the Journal of Neurology also found the exercise had a positive effect on cognitive function, physical performance and functional independence.  

5. Exercise may not counteract the effects of inactivity

Think exercising will save you? Not necessarily. Even if you exercise, sitting for long periods during the rest of the day can raise your risk of an early death, says​​ Keith Diaz, assistant professor of behavioral medicine at Columbia University’s Department of Medicine. He led a study​​​ ​reported in 2017 in Annals of Internal Medicine that looked at the effect of long, uninterrupted bouts of sitting among 8,000 middle-aged and older adults. “We found that sitting for long periods of time increases your risk of death, regardless of whether or not you exercise,” Diaz wrote in an email. The good news: Those who took a short movement break every 30 minutes lowered their risk of death. “The simple takeaway is, sit less, move more, and move frequently.” 

Up Next

Added to Favorites

Favorite removed

Added to Favorites

Favorite removed

Added to Favorites

Favorite removed