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.
Facebook LinkedIn Twitter Add | Email Print


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

Parliamentary Library Logo showing Information Analysis & Advice




refugees asylum immigration Australian foreign policy Parliament elections climate change social security women welfare reform taxation Indigenous Australians Australian Defence Force welfare policy school education higher education private health insurance health financing emissions trading Middle East Senate Australian Bureau of Statistics employment people trafficking Asia statistics illicit drugs gambling health reform federal election 2010 Australian Public Service income management Medicare disability Sport United Nations environment industrial relations constitution transport politics criminal law Afghanistan health forced labour food public service reform aged care aid Australian Sports Anti-Doping Agency World Anti-Doping Agency United States federal budget Carbon Pricing Mechanism dental health international relations governance regulation Fair Work Act voting law enforcement electoral reform OECD Australian Electoral Commission WADA child protection poker machines Australia in the Asian Century steroids National Disability Insurance Scheme detention 43rd Parliament slavery health system leadership domestic violence parliamentary procedure International Women's Day accountability defence capability multiculturalism ASADA Australian Federal Police labour force people smuggling debt New Zealand Australian Crime Commission pharmaceutical benefits scheme political parties coal seam gas Human rights crime China Census election results UK Parliament Papua New Guinea banking corruption pensions children's health Aviation federal election 2013 foreign debt gross debt net debt Senators and Members ALP Newstart Parenting Payment Youth Allowance sea farers United Kingdom energy food labelling Australian economy violence against women vocational education and training military history by-election High Court skilled migration mental health Federal Court terrorist groups science social media Higher Education Loan Program HECS federal state relations youth paid parental leave same sex relationships customs planning doping health risks Gonski Review of Funding for Schooling sex slavery Special Rapporteur Northern Territory Emergency Response social policy ANZUS Rural and regional trade unions Foreign affairs election timetable Indigenous royal commission Productivity firearms public policy Population ADRV terrorism transparency research and development welfare ASIO intelligence community Australian Security Intelligence Organisation carbon tax mining employer employee renewable energy regional unemployment fishing European Union family assistance United Nations Security Council forestry Drugs welfare systems Indonesia children Constitutional reform local government codes of conduct terrorist financing homelessness Parliamentary remuneration money laundering Trafficking in Persons Report social inclusion paternalism environmental law US presidential election nutrition ODA Defence sitting days electoral divisions Southeast Asia administrative law universities TAFE Ireland citizenship asylum seekers early childhood education Canada Financial sector 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 water health policy Governor-General US economy export liquefied natural gas foreign bribery question time speaker superannuation public housing expertise climate Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry Pacific Islands reserved seats new psychoactive substances synthetic drugs UNODC carbon markets animal health middle class welfare constitutional recognition of local government referendum consumer laws PISA competition policy US politics language education baby bonus Leaders of the Opposition citizen engagement policymaking Australia Greens servitude Trafficking Protocol forced marriage alcohol entitlements ministries Hung Parliament social citizenship maritime Iran regional students school chaplains federal budget 2011-12 salary Medicare Locals primary care Building the Education Revolution Turkey Syria marine pollution sustainability prisons police deaths in custody electoral margins electoral pendulum electoral redistribution redistribution NSW redistribution WA redistribution ACT electoral boundaries ASEAN Sustainable Development Goals Double dissolution Senators safety vehicles MYEFO Pathology tertiary education Taiwan Xi Ma meeting family violence government financial advisers financial planners Financial System Inquiry Murray Inquiry China; Economic policy; Southeast Asia; Africa housing Speaker; House of Representatives; Parliament High Court; Indigenous; Indigenous Australians; Native Title ACT Indigenous education Norfolk Island External Territories emissions reduction fund; climate change child care funding refugees immigration asylum procurement Indigenous health e-voting internet voting nsw state elections 44th Parliament 2015 ABS Age Pension Death penalty capital punishment execution Bali nine Bali bombings Trade 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 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 Israel Palestine asylum refugees immigration political finance donations foreign aid Economics efficiency human rights; Racial Discrimination Act employment law bullying 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 First speech defence budget submarines workers Somalia GDP world heritage political engagement leave loading Trade; tariffs; safeguards; Anti-dumping public interest disclosure whistleblowing Productivity Commission limitation period 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 anti-dumping Rent Assistance obesity evidence law sacrament of confession international days DFAT UN General Assembly deregulation Regulation Impact Statements small business Breaker Morant regional engagement social determinants of health abortion Members suspension workplace health and safety marine reserves hearing 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 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