Are you sitting too much? Find out the effects of a sedentary lifestyle

How bad is sitting down all day?



Fitness Enthusiast
@AVogelUK
Ask Louise


20 February 2020

How bad is sitting down all day?

Studies show that 60% or more of an adult's waking hours are spent sitting down, which equates to nearly 8 hours a day.1 However, the average working day in the UK is 9 hours so, if you have a job that involves staying seated all day, it is likely that your overall time spent sitting will be much higher.

Adolescents and adults over the age of 60 tend to spend the most time sitting.2 For the latter, this may be linked to poor health as this obviously makes it harder to get moving.

To help you find out more about a sedentary lifestyle and how it affects our health, this blog covers the following:

  • What is a sedentary lifestyle?
  • What are the negative effects of a sedentary lifestyle?
  • How much sitting is too much?
  • 4 ways to fix a sedentary lifestyle.

What is considered a sedentary lifestyle?

Sedentary behaviours include sitting at work, during your commute, at home and during leisure time. It includes pro-longed hours watching television, playing computer games or reading. During these activities, energy expenditure is low which contrasts with the likes of cycling or walking which get the heart rate up, stretch out the body and use up energy.

It has been recognised that too much sitting is different from too little exercise. Research shows that you can meet guidelines for exercise, however, if you still sit for long periods on top of this, it could compromise health.3 So, even if you exercise regularly, sitting down too much can still be bad for you.

What are the negative effects of a sedentary lifestyle?

Some news headlines have heralded 'sitting as the new smoking' due to the negative effects it can have on the body. Whilst this view may be a little extreme, sitting too much does share some of the same side effects as smoking.

Too much time sitting can contribute to various health problems, including:

  • Obesity
  • Excess weight
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Loss of muscle tissue4
  • Cardiovascular problems
  • Depression
  • Low mood
  • High blood pressure
  • Aches and pains, particularly back pain
  • Poor sleep.

On top of all this, research shows that sitting too often can increase the risk of premature mortality and even some cancers.5

Sitting is thought to slow the metabolism6 which, in turn, affects the body's ability to regulate processes like controlling blood pressure and blood sugar, plus it is less able to break down body fat.

How much sitting is too much?

On average, we spend about 8 hours a day sitting which is definitely too much.

As I've mentioned in previous blogs, we should aim to exercise for around 150 minutes each week and this should be to an extent that gets your breathing and heart rate up.

As well as doing aerobic activities that get your heart and lungs working, it's a good idea to do some stretching or walking throughout the day to avoid long periods where you are sedentary. Aerobic activities should also be included alongside everyday activities like walking, shopping and cleaning.

4 ways to fix a sedentary lifestyle

To avoid the health problems associated with sitting, it is really beneficial to break up sedentary time. Breaks in sedentary activities have been associated with lower BMI and lower waist circumference, so it's likely you'll notice improvements quickly.7

1. Set reminders to get moving

I have a watch that reminds me to get up every hour or so. I usually take this opportunity to stretch or catch up on errands in other parts of the office building. Walking to other offices instead of phoning or emailing is also a good way to get your step count up.

If your watch doesn't remind you to get moving, stick post-it notes around your workspace or set a little reminder on your phone – make sure it's not too loud, though, or you may get some annoyed-looking glances from your co-workers!

It is thought that breaking up sedentary activities with just 1-2 minutes of movement is enough to have a positive impact on our health, provided we do it regularly.8

2. Change desks

A height-adjustable desk may help reduce the time spent sitting. Placing your computer on something that gives it a bit of height, such as a cardboard box, has the same effect and is a little bit cheaper (as long as it's safe!).

Another good tip is to hold standing or walking meetings at work. You'll have to speak to HR about this one, but it is worth a try to reduce the amount of time you spend in your chair.

3. Choose active transport

Walking, cycling and running will help you to move more, whilst also being a lot friendlier for the environment than cars or public transport. The accessibility of your neighbourhood and job will have a factor to play in this so, if you can't walk or cycle all the time, try doing it just two days a week or for more manageable distances.

4. Watch less television

Try breaking up the time you spend in front of the television with other tasks, such as cleaning dishes, doing the washing or tidying. Fancy something more relaxing? Well, have a hot shower where you can stand for 20 minutes or so. Just remember to pause your programme so you don't miss any of it whilst moving about!

I also recommend taking up a hobby that will get you out of the house and away from the television for a while. Exercise classes are really popular nowadays, but find something that you enjoy so that you'll be more likely to stick to it. Looking for some ideas? Check out my blog '10 really easy ways to exercise'.

Whilst it may seem like there are a lot of dangers associated with sitting too often, some simple changes to your daily routine should reduce sitting time and improve your overall health and wellbeing. When introducing changes to your lifestyle, start off with gentle activities to avoid aches and pains, and to help create habits that are easier to stick to long term.

We can't get away from our desk jobs or driving jobs, but we can move throughout the day.

References

1 https://academic.oup.com/aje/article/167/7/875/84501 
https://academic.oup.com/aje/article/167/7/875/84501 
3 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3404815/ 
4 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2343229/?report=reader 

https://journals.lww.com/acsm- msse/Fulltext/2009/05000/Sitting_Time_and_Mortality_from_All_Causes,.5.asp
6 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3404815/ 
https://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/31/4/661 
https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/why-sitting-too-much-is-bad-for-us/ 

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