• Dr Chris George

How sitting down may be a hidden health pandemic

“We can’t out train the damage caused by sitting in our office chair all day. Emerging evidence now suggests that an hour gym session after work may not be enough to counteract the health risks of being sedentary”.

In the UK, we spend an astonishing 9.5 hours a day sat down with that figure increasing on retirement to 10+ hours per day.

We all know and appreciate that movement is good for us but where did this all start?

A quick down memory lane to one of the first ever pieces of research which was conducted on bus drivers in London back in 1953 by Morris et al. It was shown that bus conductors compared with bus drivers experienced less coronary heart disease and death. It was the first big piece of research pointing towards sedentary behaviour as a direct risk factor for adverse health outcomes.

Over the years there have been numerous studies showing that physical activity reduces the risk of dying, type 2 diabetes, certain types of cancer, obesity and heart conditions but why is it that so many of us remain sedentary? Whilst it was initially thought these diseases arose from the fact people were more likely to be obese evidence now shows that even if you are not overweight but sedentary you are still at greater risk.

Sedentary Behaviour

The term is used to describe any group of activities that occur whilst sitting down or lying and usually require low energy expenditure. Examples include: sitting at work, lying on the sofa watching TV, reading, siting on the bus or public transport.

Activities excluded include: sleeping, pushing yourself in a wheel chair and chair-based exercises.

Staying active

When looking to stay active and reducing the length of time we sit there are two important considerations.

1. The total length of time we sit

2. How to break up sitting

Standing up for your health

The concept of a standing desk whilst it may not be for everyone it does address the points above. It’s important to realise that no one is saying you shouldn’t ever sit down but it’s about ensuring an optimal balance and breaking up prolonged periods of sitting. With a boom in the sale of standing desks and employers becoming ever more health conscious why not ask your HR Manager for your very own standing desk.

5 Top tips for reducing sitting

1. Stand up at work

If you’re sat in long meetings or on the phone why not get up and stand for a period.

2. Reduce your usual sedentary time

On days where you know you will be sat for prolonged periods of time try and plan in activities such as walks during your lunch break, evening exercise classes or even cooking a healthy meal.

3. Limit sedentary periods of time

Download the ENCOURAGE App – a smart app that encourages users to reduce engage in activity and break up bouts of prolonged sitting.

4. Swap siting for standing

During usual activities such as watching TV. Why not try standing or alternating?

5. Take a screen break

Take a walk away from screens at work and at home by taking regular walking breaks during long hours spent starring at the box.