Image by Imran Khan

Please stand up: prolonged sitting could kill

2 April, 2012, Sean O'Neill

In both our work and our home life, we are all sitting more these days. On our way to work and back again we sit in our cars. Our vision of what is means to be healthy is centred around getting enough exercise and eating well. But we are wrong. This is not all that being healthy involves.

A fresh study published last week in the Archives of Internal medicine into the effects of prolonged sitting on all cause mortality has shown that sitting for lengthy amounts of time per day can have a negative impact on our life span.

The message from health-care professionals should be not just that more activity is good for us, but less time spent sitting is also better for us. [frax09alpha]

In a world where we are increasingly desk based and chained to the computer at work, where we get home and crash on the sofa to watch TV or we go out to meet friends and sit over a coffee or a beer, this message is of vital importance.

The study concluded that people who are sitting for more than eleven hours in a day are 40% more likely to die within the next three years. This is regardless of whether they have been physically active or not.

Over 200,000 people in Australia were studied and it was recommended that people spend less time sitting, ideally less than four hours a day, in addition to engaging in physical activity.

This adds to significant evidence that has been building over a number of years. The researchers said that this does not mean that sitting kills you but that prolonged sitting and premature mortality are linked.

“These results have important public health implications,” said study lead author Dr Hidde van der Ploeg, a senior research fellow at the University of Sydney’s School of Public Health.

“That morning walk or trip to the gym is still necessary, but it’s also important to avoid prolonged sitting. Our results suggest the time people spend sitting at home, work and in traffic should be reduced by standing or
walking more.”

Since the average adult spends 90% of their leisure time sitting down and less than half of adults meet World Health Organization physical activity recommendations, a significant public information campaign should be launched to inform people of the dangers of prolonged sitting.

The evidence is so strong that doctors may actually prescribe reduced sitting time to their patients.

These findings are also important in considering children’s health. There was a time when kids were allowed play on the street from morning until dinner but now we keep them locked up with their Xbox or Nintendo DS as consolation. Will all that time spent battling and saving the world while never leaving the living room shorten their lives?

If that weren’t bad enough then we drive them to school. Speaking of driving, if you have ever been in a shopping centre parking lot in your life, you will be familiar with the way cars seem to pile up the closer you get to the door, drivers anxiously wait for parking spaces to become available, eyeing up anyone who walks buy with some shopping, when instead there are a million available spaces a short distance away that only require a little bit of walking.

Up until recently scientists classed being sedentary as being below the minimum amount of required physical exercise per week but this is now beginning to change as a result of such studies.

Sedentary behaviour has been shown to result in changes in skeletal muscle and cholesterol.

So what can we do? It is clear we need to be sending a different message in regard to what people need to be healthy. It is not just a matter of going to the gym or getting enough exercise but also getting up and moving around once in a while.

Our jobs might be desk based but we can still get up to walk to the water cooler once in a while. Our kids might be desk based in school but we can still ensure once they get home that they are not continually sitting in front of the TV. In a world that increasingly revolves around convenience it will be difficult to tackle this problem. This is why a major public health campaign is needed. If you are sitting down reading this, please stand up.




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