Are you increasing your risk of disease by 50%? If you have an office-based job where you spend a significant number of hours sitting at a desk, the answer is yes. Even your children could be at risk sitting down for long periods at school. Sedentary behaviour comes in all shapes and forms – driving or sitting on buses and trains, watching TV, using a computer, playing video games or reading or sitting while socialising.
We spend increasingly long periods of time in environments that reduce physical activity and require prolonged sitting – at work, home, in our cars and our communities – when compared to our parents and grandparents.
Work sites, schools, homes and public spaces are re-engineered to reduce human movement and muscular activity, resulting in people moving less and sitting more. But we were designed to move and engage in all kinds of physical movement throughout the day and it’s essential to our survival. This modern-day shift from a physically demanding life to one with few physical challenges has been sudden when looked at from an evolutionary perspective.
The dangers of sitting include:
- Weight gain
- Increased risk of Type 2 diabetes
- Cardiovascular disease
- Death from all causes in adults
It’s also of concern that the potential health outcomes of a sedentary lifestyle seem to be independent of physical activity so that even physically active people can be susceptible to the adverse effects of prolonged sedentary behaviour. This shouldn’t however detract from the importance of being active for at least 30 minutes a day.
Studies have also shown that women are more sedentary up to the age of 40, while men are more so after 60.
Biological, demographic and social/cultural factors affect the sedentary behaviour of young people, with some evidence suggesting that young boys typically spend more time sedentary than adolescent girls. Research also suggests that screen time is greatest among children with a lower socio-economic status and those from ethnic minority backgrounds.
Having multiple computers and TV’s in the house, especially in the bedroom, also play a major role.
So what can be done?
It’s difficult to determine how harmful sedentary behaviour is in these relatively early stages. General guidance from health professionals includes:
Create strategies to break up your sedentary time
- Take regular, active breaks during work and school time such as getting up regularly to speak to colleagues or to make a drink
- Take active breaks during leisure time as well – e.g. when watching TV or using a computer
- Set rules or limit screen time and remove TVs, computers or video games from bedrooms
- Parents or carers need to reduce their own sedentary behaviour to be good role models
- Start by simply standing rather than sitting whenever you have the chance, such as while talking on the phone or eating lunch
Remember, the muscle activity needed for standing and other movements seems to trigger important processes related to the breakdown of fats and sugars within the body. When you sit, these processes stall — and your health risks increase. While standing or actively moving, you kick the processes back into action.