Adults that sit for 10 hours per day have a 34% higher risk of mortality compared to those that sit for just 1 hour per day.
This startling statistic probably makes those of us who sit for long periods of time daily, often due to work, flinch a little. Thankfully, there is a way to mitigate this effect of sitting. Today, World Physical Activity Day (the 6th of April), might be the motivation we need to make some changes to help with this. So today, let us give some practical advice on how we all can reduce the negative impact that sitting has on our health through increasing physical activity.
Mitigating that sitting time!
As a result of Covid-19, many of us now sit for long periods at home, with opportunities for physical activity restricted due to national restrictions, Zoom conference calls, work commitments, home-schooling and general family life. Unfortunately, sitting for too long during our day is bad for our health but physical activity can help. In fact, findings from over 1 million individual datasets highlight that the risks associated with sitting vary based on physical activity level. So, in the most active people, those who do 60-75 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity, time spent sitting is not associated with mortality at all. This type of activity is challenging and generally means that you are working at an intensity that causes you to be red faced, to breath faster and to sweat.
For some of us, this may seem a little too challenging and a large time commitment. The good news is that even 30 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity daily can reduce some of the negative effects of excessive sitting time, but the more active time the better! Also, in line with the latest guidelines from the World Health Organisation, we can accumulate this physical activity in shorter bouts, such as taking a 15-minute walk in the morning, 10 minutes of gardening at lunch time or a 20 minute yoga session in the evening. The accumulation of physical activity at the appropriate intensity (moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity) is the important thing to remember and it gives you well needed breaks during your working day.
Some is better than none.
The earlier message is the ultimate target, but a really important consideration and a well-established fact at this point is that the greatest benefits of physical activity can be seen among those who are currently not active. So, if you yourself, or if you know of a friend, colleague or relative that currently engages in no physical activity, simply walking for 10 minutes every day can have a positive impact on health. So those earlier tips of walking to the shop, digging in the garden, taking a call while out for a walk or simply doing some manual chores around the house are all equally relevant regardless of our starting point. All journeys start with a single step, so setting achievable goals and increasing our targets gradually is the most effective way to incorporate physical activity into our daily life!
Some physical activity is better than none, and more is better than some.
Doing whatever we can to reduce sitting time through increased physical activity should be our priority, regardless of our starting levels of physical activity. April marks the middle of Spring, and the Summer is coming. More daylight hours and better weather will help us increase physical activity, and today, World Physical Activity day 2021 is the ideal time for us to make a fresh physical activity start.
Dr Kieran Dowd is a lecturer and researcher in Physical Activity and Health, and lead of the Exercise and Health strand of the SHE Research Group. Kieran’s research focuses on physical activity measurement and physical activity promotion in youth populations.
Chau, J.Y., Grunseit, A.C., Chey, T., Stamatakis, E., Brown, W.J., Matthews, C.E., Bauman, A.E. and van der Ploeg, H.P., 2013. Daily sitting time and all-cause mortality: a meta-analysis. PloS one, 8(11), p.e80000.
Ekelund, U., Steene-Johannessen, J., Brown, W.J., Fagerland, M.W., Owen, N., Powell, K.E., Bauman, A., Lee, I.M., Series, L.P.A. and Lancet Sedentary Behaviour Working Group, 2016. Does physical activity attenuate, or even eliminate, the detrimental association of sitting time with mortality? A harmonised meta-analysis of data from more than 1 million men and women. The Lancet, 388(10051), pp.1302-1310.