Sitting comfortably? How sitting is affecting our health

Parliament house flag post

Sitting comfortably? How sitting is affecting our health

Posted 25/07/2012 by Amanda Biggs



A growing body of evidence is pointing to the health risks associated with sedentary behaviours, and in particular risks associated with prolonged periods of sitting, independent of other physical activities.

While we have known for some time that regular physical activity is important to good health and that sedentary lifestyles are detrimental, what the emerging body of evidence is now suggesting is that periods of prolonged sitting can have negative health consequences even where people are meeting recommended exercise guidelines and maintaining a healthy body weight. In other words, undertaking the recommended 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical exercise each day, and keeping weight within healthy limits, may not be sufficient to maintain health, if people are also subject to long periods of sitting.

Four recent studies highlight this body of research. This VicHealth study summarises some of this recent research which together point to associations between time spent sitting and premature mortality, cardiovascular disease, elevated levels of insulin, blood glucose and blood pressure, and even mental illness. The study also points to the increase in sedentary work activities, with the advent of computerisation and the internet.

The Archives of Internal Medicine recently published a detailed analysis of survey data from those aged 45 or older in NSW and subsequent mortality data. The study found that prolonged sitting was responsible for 6.9% of all deaths among over 45s, independent of other risk factors, including body mass index (BMI).

A recent BMJ Open study which analysed data from the US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) indicated that reducing sitting to under 3 hours a day would add an extra two years to life expectancy. This echoes an earlier Australian study on the effects of TV viewing on life expectancy, which found that the amount of TV watched in Australia had reduced life expectancy by 1.8 years for men, and 1.5 years for women.

How does prolonged sitting damage our health? The mechanism by which sedentary behaviour adversely impacts on the body is thought to be due to how it interferes with the body's metabolic functions, which regulate our insulin and cholesterol levels. Elevated insulin and cholesterol levels are linked to metabolic syndrome, heart disease and diabetes. While standing requires the muscles to constantly contract in order to balance the body, such preventive muscle activity is absent while sitting. Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is another risk of prolonged sitting.

The policy implications of this research if substantiated by future studies, is potentially significant. Sitting for prolonged periods is a dominant feature of modern office work, but also it is a reality for transport workers such as bus, taxi and truck drivers, and airline pilots. Commuters in cars or on public transport often face long periods of sitting when travelling to and from work. Students routinely spend several hours a day sitting in class or studying, and our leisure time is also increasingly sedentary, watching TV, playing computer games, reading or updating our social media profiles.

More research will be needed to substantiate and deepen our understanding of the negative impact of sedentary behaviours, determine safe levels of sitting periods and develop appropriate interventions. But the VicHealth study suggests even simple interventions such as standing up for short breaks, can be beneficial. The VicHealth study also identified a number of other potential workplace interventions. These include redesigning workplaces to accommodate stand-sit desks, embedding regular microbreaks into work practices or prompting workers to stand/move via electronic reminders, conducting stand up meetings, adopting workplace wide exercise programs and introducing postural aids such as stretching against elastic bands, but not all will be practical for all situations.

Given sedentary activities are also increasingly dominating our leisure time as well as our work time, such workplace interventions may become increasingly important to maintain health. Although longer term benefits such as increased productivity may later flow if such interventions are adopted, encouraging employers to introduce these may not be straightforward. In some cases, significant re-design of work practices and work places may be required, at some cost. But if the future body of evidence continues to causally link prolonged sitting with adverse health outcomes, and employers fail to act to protect workers from these adverse health outcomes, then the risk of litigation will become a distinct possibility.

Therefore, determining optimal sitting times and appropriate low-cost interventions will need to be a focus of future research.


Thank you for your comment. If it does not require moderation, it will appear shortly.

Add your comment

[Click to expand]

We welcome your comments, or additional information which is relevant to a post. These can be added by clicking on the ‘Add your comment’ option above. Please note that the Parliamentary Library will moderate comments, and reserves the right not to publish comments that are inconsistent with the objectives of FlagPost. This includes comments that are not relevant to the article, factually incorrect or politically partisan, as well as spam, profanity and personal abuse. We will close comments after three months.




Captcha
Generate a new image
Type characters from the image:

Facebook LinkedIn Twitter Add | Email Print

FlagPost

Flagpost is a blog on current issues of interest to members of the Australian Parliament


Parliamentary Library Logo showing Information Analysis & Advice

Archive

Syndication

Tagcloud

refugees asylum immigration climate change Australian foreign policy parliament social security elections welfare reform welfare policy school education Australian Defence Force health financing higher education emissions trading indigenous Australians women private health insurance people trafficking Employment illicit drugs gambling health reform federal election 2010 Middle East disability Sport Australian Bureau of Statistics statistics United Nations Asia Afghanistan income management Medicare health forced labour Taxation Australian Sports Anti-Doping Agency World Anti-Doping Agency United States federal budget Industrial Relations Carbon Pricing Mechanism politics dental health Australian Electoral Commission WADA criminal law transport aid child protection environment poker machines Australia in the Asian Century steroids National Disability Insurance Scheme detention aged care 43rd Parliament slavery health system ASADA Law Enforcement Australian Federal Police Fair Work Act Australian Public Service governance labour force people smuggling debt international relations constitution New Zealand food Australian Crime Commission pharmaceutical benefits scheme OECD corruption pensions public service reform children's health Aviation federal election 2013 foreign debt gross debt net debt defence capability parliamentary procedure Senate Senators and Members ALP Newstart Parenting Payment multiculturalism Youth Allowance sea farers UK Parliament election results voting mental health Federal Court terrorist groups science social media Higher Education Loan Program HECS federal state relations accountability Papua New Guinea youth paid parental leave same sex relationships coal seam gas customs planning doping crime health risks International Women's Day Gonski Review of Funding for Schooling sex slavery Special Rapporteur Northern Territory Emergency Response social policy violence against women domestic violence China ADRV terrorism transparency research and development welfare ASIO intelligence community Australian Security Intelligence Organisation carbon tax mining High Court military history electoral reform employer employee renewable energy regional unemployment fishing by-election European Union family assistance skilled migration banking United Nations Security Council Australian economy forestry food labelling vocational education and training Drugs welfare systems Indonesia children Constitutional reform local government codes of conduct terrorist financing homelessness Parliamentary remuneration money laundering Trafficking in Persons Report energy social inclusion human rights paternalism national security fuel disability employment Tasmania integrity standards NATO Australian Secret Intelligence Service sexual abuse World Trade Organization Australia public health housing affordability bulk billing political parties water productivity health policy Governor-General US economy trade unions export liquefied natural gas foreign bribery firearms question time speaker superannuation public housing expertise public policy climate Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change leadership Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry regulation Pacific Islands reserved seats new psychoactive substances synthetic drugs UNODC carbon markets animal health middle class welfare Census Indigenous constitutional recognition of local government referendum consumer laws PISA competition policy royal commission US politics language education baby bonus Leaders of the Opposition citizen engagement policymaking Australia Greens servitude Trafficking Protocol forced marriage Population rural and regional alcohol entitlements ministries Hung Parliament social citizenship maritime Iran ANZUS regional students school chaplains federal budget 2011-12 salary Medicare Locals primary care Building the Education Revolution EU China soft power education Fiji India Disability Support Pension Antarctica Diplomacy by-elections state and territories Bills anti-corruption fraud bribery corporate ownership whistleblower G20 economic reform innovation Members of Parliament Scottish referendum early childhood education Middle East; national security; terrorism social services Criminal Code Amendment (Misrepresentation of Age to a Minor) Bill 2013 online grooming sexual assault of minors ACT Assembly smoking plain packaging tobacco cigarettes Asia; Japan; international relations Work Health and Safety Migration; asylum seekers; regional processing China; United States; international relations fiscal policy Racial Discrimination Act; social policy; human rights; indigenous Australians Foreign policy Southeast Asia Israel Palestine asylum refugees immigration political finance donations foreign aid Economics efficiency human rights; Racial Discrimination Act employment law bullying asylum seekers Animal law; food copyright Australian Law Reform Commission industry peace keeping contracts workplace policies same-sex marriage disorderly conduct retirement Parliament House standing orders prime ministers election timetable sitting days First speech defence budget submarines workers financial sector Canada Somalia United Kingdom GDP world heritage political engagement leave loading Trade; tariffs; safeguards; Anti-dumping public interest disclosure whistleblowing Productivity Commission limitation period universities Ireland cancer gene patents genetic testing suspension of standing and sessional orders live exports infant mortality honorary citizen railways disciplinary tribunals standard of proof World Health Organisation arts international students skilled graduate visas temporary employment visas apologies roads Italy national heritage NHMRC nutrition anti-dumping Rent Assistance obesity evidence law sacrament of confession US presidential election international days DFAT UN General Assembly deregulation Regulation Impact Statements administrative law small business Breaker Morant regional engagement social determinants of health abortion Members suspension workplace health and safety marine reserves hearing TAFE Victoria astronomy resources sector YMCA youth parliament Korea rebate Australian Greens presidential nomination Racial Discrimination Act political parties preselection solar hot water Financial Action Taskforce Horn of Africa peacekeeping piracy Great Barrier Reef Stronger futures political financing political education Social Inclusion Board early childhood National Quality Framework for Early Childhood Education and Care Murray-Darling Basin sanctions Norway hospitals republic President Barack Obama Presidential visits qantas counselling Korean peninsula Work Choices biosecurity hendra environmental law federalism federation preselection therapeutic goods Therapeutic Goods Administration plebiscites computer games pests suicide nuclear COAG Ministerial Councils floods ADHD stimulant medication advertising electricity extradition conscience votes poverty preventative health rural health coastal erosion Parliamentary Budget Office work-life balance

Show all
Show less
Back to top