Is sitting the new smoking?

If you’ve ever heard the phrase “sitting is the new smoking”, you’ll find this week’s research particularly interesting, because we’re looking at the relationship between sedentary time and risk of death.

 

Can I out exercise the time at my desk?

An article was published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine (BJSM) which studied the activity and sedentary behaviour of over 44,000 people.

I always take a keen interest in studies involving high volumes of people, because we’re often able to draw more concise conclusions.

The mean age of the individuals was 65.8, and they were studied for a period ranging between 4 and 14.5 years! Although around 8% of the individual in the study passed away during this time.

 

Here’s how they did it:

They split the participants into groups based on their physical activity levels (including things like walking) and time spent being sedentary (i.e not moving or being active).

Most of their findings won’t surprise you.

As you’d expect, they found that those in the highest third of sedentary time – around 10.7 hours per day – had a 20% great risk of death (from all causes) compared to those in the middle group – who were sedentary for around 9.5 hours, and 88% higher than those in the lower third – around 8.5 hours.

(Bear in mind that doesn’t include sleep, otherwise we’d all be buggered!)

And, again unsurprisingly, those who spent the most time being active were at less risk of death than the least active group.

 

But here’s where it gets interesting:

Even in the group that did the most exercise, increased time spent being sedentary led to a 40% higher risk of death.

Interesting, right?

It’s compelling evidence that exercise doesn’t undo time spent sitting around all day.

If we compare both ends of the spectrum, the least active and most sedentary group had a 260% higher risk. of death than those who spent at least 30 minutes per day being active, and less than 8 hours sedentary.

 

So what conclusions can we draw?

There’s some strong evidence that we need to consider not only how long we’re active, but also how long we spend sitting or not moving.

We can’t just run off a day of sitting, and are better off taking active breaks throughout the day.

The government recommend a minimum of 150 minutes of physical activity per week which, if combined with minimal time spent being sedentary, would put you nicely in the lowest risk group.

 

What can we do about it?

One great piece of kit that can help you is an activity watch.

Most are now equipped with trackers that can alert you when you’ve been inactive for an hour or more.

If you follow the prompts provided – even if it’s just climbing the stairs or walking around the garden a few times – you’ll be significantly reducing your risk of adverse health events down the line!

 

Reference paper:

Ekelund U, Tarp J, Fagerland MW, et al

Joint associations of accelero-meter measured physical activity and sedentary time with all-cause mortality: a harmonised meta-analysis in more than 44,000 middle-aged and older individuals

British Journal of Sports Medicine 2020;54:1499-1506.