Why sitting too much is bad for your health

Reducing the amount of time spent sitting is one issue that has been set aside because the desire to become more active has been under the spotlight for some time.

Research suggests that no matter how much you train and workout, if you remain seated for a long time each day, you put your body at risk. Excessive sitting has been linked to conditions such as type 2 diabetes, some types of cancer, obesity and even premature death since it slows down the metabolism which alters the body’s ability to do certain tasks like break down body fat, regulating blood pressure and blood sugar levels.

Excessive sitting is a habit that escalates as one ages. In the UK, many adults spend more than seven hours a day sitting or lying which goes up to 10 hours or more for people who are 65 years old and above. Excluding sleeping, activities including watching TV, reading, using a handheld device or computer, and travelling are behavior that are considered sedentary.

One of the most recent and concrete pieces of research on the subject involved about 800,000 subjects that were compared with people who rarely sat. It appears that people who sat the most had the following:

147% increase in cardiovascular events 112% increase in risk of diabetes 90% increase in death caused by cardiovascular events 49% increase in death from any cause

The government gets involved

In 2011, the government issued recommendations on reducing sitting for different age groups. The Start Active, Stay Active report suggests breaking up long periods of sitting time with “shorter bouts of activity for just one to two minutes” and a panel of leading experts who reviewed the evidence suggests taking “an active break from sitting every 30 minutes”. The guidelines apply to everyone, whether you exercise regularly or not as excessive sitting is now considered as an independent risk factor for ill health.

Professor Stuart Biddle, leading researcher for the national guidelines on reducing sitting at Victoria University, Australia, says people who take regular exercise may still be broadly sedentary stating that “If someone goes to the gym or walks for 30 to 45 minutes a day, but sits down the rest of the time, then they are still described as having a sedentary lifestyle, all-day movement is now seen as being just as important for the maintenance of good health as traditional exercise.”

Exactly how long is too long?

“At the moment, we don’t know if a one size fits all approach is appropriate,” says Professor David Dunstan of the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute, Melbourne, Australia. Currently, there is not enough proof to set a time limit on the amount of time people should sit per day.

“For example, it is unclear whether the advice for someone who is overweight or obese may need to be different for someone who is leaner.”