Woman sitting at desk
  • 10 January 2022

Are you sitting too much?

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Lucy TomlinsonActive Kent & Medway

Most of us know that being active is good for our health. But more evidence is emerging that even if you exercise regularly, spending a lot of time sitting down can be bad for you.

Stuart Biddle, Professor of Physical Activity and Health, based at the BHF National Centre in Loughborough, explains:

“We sit too much, and research suggests that this is not very good for us. The poor health effects from too much sitting are separate from whether you are physically active or not. They are separate behaviours in the same way that smoking is different from diet. People who spend long periods of time sitting have been found to have higher rates of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and death from all causes. This was originally thought to be because those people were more likely to be obese. But there is now evidence that even if you’re not overweight, sedentary behaviour can still put you at greater risk”.

Sedentary behaviour refers to a group of behaviours that occur when sitting or lying down while awake and that typically require low energy expenditure. Examples include sitting while at work, home or school; watching television; using a computer; reading; sitting while socialising with friends or family; and sitting in a car or bus.

“Sitting for long periods is also associated with poor mental health, such as depression (although it can be difficult to separate cause and effect), and that people feel their minds are working better when they sit less”.

Change behaviours to reduce sitting time

Current Department of Health guidelines say we should reduce the time we spend sitting.

“There are two issues,” says Professor Biddle. “One is how long you sit for throughout the day, and we want to reduce that time. The second is how often you break up that sitting, and that is quite important. We are not saying you mustn’t sit down – that would be nonsense. But when you are sitting down for long periods, try to break it up. A common sense rule of thumb is to get up for five minutes every half hour.”

Why not try some of these suggestions to break up your sitting time at home:

  • Stand up during the TV ad breaks
  • Do chores around the house
  • Stand up while on the phone
  • March on the spot while the kettle boils
  • Stand on one leg whilst doing the washing up or brushing your teeth
  • Walk up and down the stairs
  • Do seated chair exercises whilst watching TV

It’s also important to break up sedentary behaviour whilst in the workplace. Research into current levels of sedentary behaviour is limited, but we know that adults of working age in England average about 9.5 hours per day of sedentary time.

Why not try some of these suggestions to help you sit less and move more during your working day:

  • Stand up while on the phone
  • Add standing breaks into your team meetings
  • Use a standing laptop desk
  • Use the stairs instead of the lift
  • Organise a walking meeting
  • Walk to the local shops or around the local park at lunchtime
  • Alight the bus one or two stops before your destination
  • Track and monitor your daily steps
  • Join a pedometer or walking challenge
  • Walk a ‘midday mile’ with your colleagues

Building these small changes into your working day will help reduce sitting time and encourage you to move more.

For more ideas on how to sit less, move more and stay active throughout your working day, take a look at this short video – why not try some of these ideas with a colleague?

Reference: Are you Sitting too much? by Sarah Brealey, BHF Heart Matters Magazine.

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