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Experts: Sitting All Day Is 'Killing Us'

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Many of us spend our day sitting down, but it's one of the worst things you can do for your health.

CBS 2's Mary Kay Kleist reports about a few simple changes that make a big difference fast.

Sonia Rivera and Meg Harkins sit behind their desks all day at work.

"Sometimes I'm here for sometimes three to five hours straight before getting up," Rivera said.

Experts say between commuting, work and computer or TV time at home we spend up to 15 hours a day sitting down.

Melissa Paolino, an exercise physiologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, said, "I would go as far as to say it's killing us."

"I found out – when I started working here, actually – that my fat content of my body is, like, really high. Though I don't look overweight, but I am. It's bizarre," Harkins said.

Paolino said "Mainly what happens is that your metabolism begins to shut down in a sense. So with that, enzymes that are responsible for breaking down fat are suppressed."

That could lower levels of good cholesterol, raise blood sugar levels and blood pressure and lead to diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

"Because of family history, it does concern me," Rivera said.

Mayo Clinic researcher Dr. James Levine said it should concern everyone.

"Our bodies are simply, catastrophically hurt by being sedentary all the time," he said.

Levine preferred to do his interview standing up, because he stands all of the time. He even walks on a treadmill at his desk.

There are lots of things we can do at our desks. If you stand up every time the phone rings and move around while you're talking, you'll benefit.

"The way the body handles insulin is almost instantaneously changed," Levine said. "The way the heart operates changes, almost within minutes."

Levine said good effects can last up to 30 minutes after you sit down again.

Another suggestion: spend 10 minutes of every hour out of your chair walking around or swap out your office chair for a stability ball. It helps with balance and strengthens your core muscles.

Something as simple as fidgeting works too.

"People who fidget more have higher metabolisms," Paolino said.

"It's as if their brain is sending them signals to be up and moving that much more frequently," Levine said.

Levine said more companies are encouraging employees to get moving with walk and talk meetings or offering incentives for healthier behaviors, like rewarding people for using the stairs.

Experts say sitting can also cause back problems for many people. Just moving more helps ease the pain.

You can buy standup desks, but they can cost hundreds of dollars. Stability balls can be purchased for under $30 at many sporting goods and discount stores.

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