Are you spending too much time sitting? If you are it may hurt your health.

The rise of sedentary behaviours and sitting time

Over time, sedentary behaviours have been increasing, including sitting while we commute to work, sitting while we’re at work, and sitting while we’re at home during our leisure time. More often than not, we spend our leisure time watching TV or spend even more time on our computers using the Internet. We just do so much sitting!!

But how long do we sit for?

A recent study from Scotland has found that people over the age of 25 spend more time sitting than old age pensioners (7.8hr vs 7.4hrs) each day. For those who worked, almost half of their sitting time was spent at work in front of a screen. This is new information, as historically, younger people spend less time sitting then older people. Obviously, the way we work, and what we do to relax has changed significantly.

Is all sitting bad for your health?

These findings have huge consequences for our health, with sitting often described as ‘the new smoking’. There is increasing evidence in the health and scientific community, suggesting that if people sit for longer than 7-10 hours day, they’re at increased risk of various serious health consequences.

An Australian study Too Much Sitting: The Population-Health Science of Sedentary Behavior, examining the difference between sedentary behaviours and sitting time have also found that there was an increased role between sedentary behaviour and its influence on obesity and major chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease. When the World Health Organisation (WHO) published their report of the Global Health Risks they found that physical inactivity is estimated to cause approximately 21-25% of breast and colon cancers burden, 27% of diabetes, and 30% of ischaemic heart disease burden.

We also know that certain types of activity we do while we’re sitting can play a role in health outcomes too, particularly, sitting in front of the television. It may be that this type of sitting is also associated with other negative health behaviours, such as poor food choices or frequent snacking.

Does exercise help?

Reducing sedentary behaviours, including how long we sit, is important as researchers do believe that the associated risks of sitting can be attenuated with exercise.

A large study suggested regular participation in moderate to high intensity activity is best, as it has been shown to reduce our risk of developing chronic disease. However, when promoting a reduction in time spent sedentary or sitting, increasing low-intensity and light day-to-day activities may also be beneficial in reducing overall central obesity and other metabolic risk factors.

The World Health organization even reported on the benefits of physical activity in the Global Health Risks report . As well as reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, some cancers, and type 2 diabetes, physical activity can:

  • Improve musculoskeletal health
  • Control unhealthy weight gain, and
  • reduce symptoms of depression

These are all great reasons to get out there and move more!

Moderate intensity vs vigorous intensity exercise

So, we know that moderate and vigorous intensity exercise is the most beneficial for us. But do you know what counts as moderate or vigorous intensity exercise?

Moderate intensity

Moderate intensity activities require some extra effort, but you’re still able to talk while doing them. Examples include:

  • a brisk walk
  • recreational swimming
  • dancing
  • social tennis
  • household tasks like cleaning windows or raking leaves

Vigorous intensity

Vigorous intensity activities require a lot more effort and make you breathe harder and faster, like you’re huffing and puffing. Examples include:

  • jogging
  • aerobics class
  • team sports like netball or basketball
  • garden work like digging

Did you know that you can choose to do a combination of both moderate and vigorous activity? You don’t have to just stick to going for a brisk walk. You may choose to go for a brisk walk in the morning two days a week, playing netball one night a week, and go out dancing with friends on the weekend! Also, you might not realise, but 10 minutes of vigorous intensity activity is equal to 20 minutes of moderate intensity activity.

What are the physical activity recommendations?

In Australia the recommendation for physical activity, is quite achievable. You can also accumulate your activity by being active on most days of the week, rather than saving it all for one day.

Each week:

  • 150 minutes (2 ½ hours) of moderate intensity physical activity, or
  • 75 minutes (1 ¼ hours) of vigorous intensity physical activity,

can help to improve your blood pressure, cholesterol, heart health, and muscle and bone strength.

You don’t have to stop there. Increasing your activity to:

  • 300 minutes (5 hours) of moderate intensity physical activity, or
  • 150 minutes (2 ½ hours) of vigorous intensity physical activity,

can provide greater benefits to your body. It can help to prevent certain types of cancer and unhealthy weight gain.

What can you do if you’re sitting too much?

These tips may help you limit the number of hours you sit during the day:

  • If you do sit most of the day for work, try a walk at lunch, or even ten minute breaks out of the chair more frequently. If possible, you might wish to look into a standing desk.

  • Limit TV time, it’s easy to come home and sit down in front of the TV after a long day, but this just increases our sitting time. Try a walk and wait until later in the evening to turn on the TV. We should all be aiming for less than 1 hour each day of TV.

  • Try not to eat in front of screens, be it computer or the TV, as this is linked to weight gain. When we’re distracted by a screen we don’t think about portion sizes and speed of eating as much.

  • Get involved in exercise that you enjoy, walking, pilates or team sports will get you moving… which means, less time sitting!