Too much sitting can kill says new research

As companies wrestle with the move to remote working a new study has warned there is growing evidence of the health impacts of prolonged periods of sitting down.

An international study surveying more than 100,000 individuals in 21 countries found that people who sat for six to eight hours a day had a 12-13 per cent increased risk for early death and heart disease, while those who sat for more than eight hours daily increased that to a sobering 20 per cent.

The study, co-led by health sciences professor Scott Lear at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada and Wei Li of Beijing’s Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, followed individuals over an average of 11 years and determined that high amounts of sitting time were associated with increased risk of early death and cardiovascular disease. While sitting was problematic in all countries, it was especially so in low-income and lower-middle-income countries.

“The overarching message here is to minimise how much you sit,” said Lear. “If you must sit, getting in more exercise during other times of the day will offset that risk.”

Not surprising, those who sat the most and were the least active had the highest risk—up to 50 per cent—while those who sat the most but were also the most active had a substantially lower risk of about 17 per cent.

“For those sitting more than four hours a day, replacing a half hour of sitting with exercise reduced the risk by two per cent,” Lear notes. “With only one in four Canadians meeting the activity guidelines there’s a real opportunity here for people to increase their activity and reduce their chances of early death and heart disease.”

The study found a particular association in lower income countries, leading researchers to speculate that it may be because sitting in higher income countries is typically associated with higher socio-economic status and better paying jobs.

Clinicians should focus on less sitting and more activity as it’s a low-cost intervention that can have enormous benefit, Lear explained.

But while clinicians need to get the message out about countering sitting with activity, individuals need to better assess their lifestyles and take their health seriously, he added.

“Our study found that a combination of sitting and inactivity accounted for 8.8 per cent of all deaths, which is close to the contribution of smoking (10.6 per cent in Lear and Li’s study),” Lear explained “It’s a global problem that has a remarkably simple fix. Scheduling time to get out of that chair is a great start.”

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