Sitting vs. Health

By Simon Yoon

Today’s daily habits have shifted over the years. Many of us are now glued to our phones, constantly browsing on laptops and tablets, commuting for longer periods, stuck sitting at our desk at work, and even binge watching our favorite tv shows through streaming services. It’s now easier than ever to shop online and even order food to your doorstep with more businesses offering these services. Over time, it has meant that some of us are adapting a more sedentary lifestyle where sitting for long periods has become our daily routine. It’s become so easy to habitually adopt a sitting position that we may not even be aware of how much we do it. In fact, the World Health Organisation (WHO) even found that 60-85% of people, including both adults and children, in developed and developing countries have adopted a sedentary lifestyle [1]. According to Safe Work Australia, sitting accounts for nearly 8-10 hours per day [2]. This could be due to our commute length or method, sitting down for meals, sitting at work or school, leisure time, and other factors as well.

Why is this important?

Research has shown a link between sedentary lifestyles and its effect on our health. Cardiovascular disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, obesity, anxiety, and depression have all been correlated with inactive lifestyles. This is particularly due to the increase in the average number of hours of sitting throughout the week [1]. Ultimately, this can alter our circulation, breathing, and other systems throughout our body.

What can we do?

The WHO has previously released exercise guidelines on maintaining an adequate level of physical activity. It is recommended that adults should participate in at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of intense aerobic activity per week [3]. It also suggests that 2 or more days per week of muscle strengthening activity are beneficial as well. These guidelines are based on research showing that maintaining a consistently active lifestyle can lower rates of mortality, coronary artery disease, increase aerobic and muscular fitness, and more.

Is it that simple?

Lets crunch some numbers. If we do 150 minutes of aerobic activity per week then there’s still over approximately 100 hours of daytime remaining throughout the week. Every person will have their own unique schedule, but lets take an average sitting time of 8hrs/day. Accumulating those times everyday adds to 56 hours of sitting per week! Approximately half of our waking life seems to involve sitting. Perhaps this sustained position is actually affecting us more than we believe.

One very interesting study showed that mortality rates increase with longer sitting times despite your exercise routine [4]. Sitting for less than 4 hrs/day showed lower mortality rates while sitting for over 11 hrs/day increased mortality rates. This trend remained evident even when exercise times were increased to over 300 mins/week. However, this does not mean we should neglect exercise. As health professionals, we certainly advocate for integrating appropriate levels of exercises for all individuals due to its health benefits. At the end of the day, the negative impacts of prolonged sitting should serve as a reminder to continue to stand, walk, exercise, and move towards a healthier life.

And as health professionals while we certainly recognise the constraints of the modern lifestyle and that for many people the workplace and commute necessarily require a lengthy period seated, it is also on us to help you to integrate more periods of activity or positional and postural changes into your day. Please feel free to hit us up with any questions, or ask for advice. We would be more than happy to prescribe an exercise and activity program to help offset the effects of the sedentary lifestyle and make it something that is achievable and doable in the long term for you. And if you are in pain from postural related tensions and problems; you know where we are – we fix that too!

[1] World Health Organization. (2002, April 2). Physical Inactivity A Leading Cause of Disease and Disability, Warn WHO. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/release23/en/
[2] Safe Work Australia (2017, October 17). Sitting and Standing. Retrieved from https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/sedentary
[3] World Health Organization. (2011). Physical Activity and Adults. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/dietphysicalactivity/factsheet_adults/en/
[4] Oregon Institute of Occupational Health Science. (2014, June 5). Physiological Effects of Prolonged Sitting. Retrieved from https://www.ohsu.edu/xd/research/centers-institutes/oregon-institute-occupational-health-sciences/outreach/upload/AM-Thosar.pdf