Do You Sit for More Than 9.5 Hours A Day?

It is well known that physical activity is beneficial to our physical and mental well-being. We are all encouraged to try to achieve the Chief Medical Officer’s target of 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise every week. What is also becoming well known is that many of us are spending too long sitting - even if we are hitting the 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise every week. Recent studies have shown that prolonged sitting is linked to an increased risk of developing chronic diseases and premature death. But, when it comes to sitting, how long is too long and does it matter if you are very physically active?

Recent research carried out by Ulf Ekelund, et al, from the Department of Sport Medicine, Norwegian School of Sport Sciences, Oslo, Norway attempted to discover the effects that sitting has on our health. One such study published in 2016 concluded that, “High levels of moderate intensity physical activity (i.e., about 60-75 min per day) seem to eliminate the increased risk of death associated with high sitting time. However, this high activity level attenuates, but does not eliminate the increased risk associated with high TV-viewing time.”

In a separate study published in 2018, Ekelund, et al, found that higher levels of physical activity does modify the link between prolonged sitting and the increased risk of deaths from cardiovascular disease and cancer. The study concluded, “These findings emphasise the importance of higher volumes of moderate and vigorous activity to reduce, or even eliminate these risks, especially for those who sit a lot in their daily lives.”

The most recent research by Ekelund and Thomas Yates and published last week, found that deaths decreased:
  • as total physical activity increased
  • as light physical activity increased in duration up to about five hours per day and then it plateaued
  • with moderate to high intensity physical activity of about 24 minutes per day
Moreover, the research found the greatest reduction in risk of death was in the most active group; five times more deaths occurred in the inactive group than the most active group.

This latest research also discovered that being sedentary for a duration of more than 9.5 hours a day, excluding time asleep, was linked to a higher risk of premature death. This 9.5 hours does seem to be quite a long time to be sitting but if you are desk bound at work for 7 hours a day and then watch TV for 3 hours in the evening you’re at an alarming 10 hours!

What is important to note about this latest research is that the data analysed came from a large group of 36,000 participants aged 40+ years who were studied for 6 years. So, it is only pertinent to those 40 years of age and older; further research needs to be done on younger populations. Also, they wore a motion sensor around their waists tracking the intensity of their activity and the length of the activity per minute. Data coming from such a large group wearing motion sensors rather than self-reporting, which can be highly inaccurate, adds gravity to this research.

Ekelund concluded that, “Higher levels of total physical activity, at any intensity, and less time spent sedentary, are associated with substantially reduced risk for premature mortality,…”

The important phrase to note form the above conclusion is “at any intensity”. Basically, Ekelund’s research is proposing that any kind of movement, whether it be light intensity activities like washing dishes or walking slowly, moderate intensity activities like mowing the lawn or brisk walking or high intensity activities like digging or jogging, is beneficial and will reduce the risk from premature death caused by cancer or cardiovascular disease.

“Sit less—move more and more often”
Ulf Ekelund and Thomas Yates, taken from BMJ Opinion.

Basically, the message is clear; being sedentary is very bad for our health. As physical activity at any intensity level is beneficial we could all add a few extra steps to our day and go for a walk. Walking is free and easy to do for most of us and rarely will a doctor advise you not to walk.

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