Can spending less time sitting down add years to life?

Monty Python artwork showing a man in an armchair The analysis assumes a causal association rather than proving that there is one

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Limiting the time we spend sitting to just three hours a day could add an extra two years to our life expectancy, scientists calculate.

Similarly, if we cut daily TV viewing down to two hours we could add on 1.4 years, they say in a report for the online journal BMJ Open.

But experts say the US estimates, which are based on five separate population studies, are too unreliable to predict personal risk.

Plus the targets are unfeasible.

Prof David Spiegelhalter, an expert in risk calculations at the University of Cambridge, said: "This is a study of populations, and does not tell you personally what the effect of getting off the sofa might be.

"It seems plausible that if future generations moved around a bit more, then they might live longer on average.

"But very few of us currently spend less than three hours sitting each day, and so this seems a very optimistic target."

Sitting comfortably?

Adults are advised to do at least two-and-a-half hours of moderate-intensity aerobic activity such as cycling or fast walking every week, as well as a couple of sessions of muscle-strengthening exercises like lifting weights or digging in the garden.

But even if you do this recommended amount, you may still be sedentary - for example, if you work in an office you may spend most of your working day sitting.

Recommended amounts

  • Adults should try to be active every day
  • Activity may be spaced out over the week or done in one or two big sessions
  • This should include at least 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity exercise such as cycling
  • Or 75 minutes a week of intense activity, such as running or playing tennis
  • Muscle-strengthening exercises that work all the major muscle groups should be done on two or more days a week

Source: NHS choices

A growing body of evidence suggests the more time we spend sitting, the less healthy we may be.

Several studies have linked sitting and television viewing to conditions like diabetes and heart disease as well as an increased overall risk of death.

But finding a link is not the same as proving one thing actually causes the other.

And although this latest piece of research does not claim to be proof, the researchers themselves acknowledge there are flaws that make its findings less than reliable.

The work looked at a large sample of people - almost 167,000 in total - but did not scrutinise the different lifestyles these individuals led.

It is not clear how many of these people were less healthy to begin with and who, therefore, might spend more time sitting down as a result.

And the studies relied on the participants accurately recalling and reporting how much time they spent lounging around.

Dr Peter Katzmarzyk and Prof I-Min Lee who carried out the review stress that their estimates are theoretical.

man watching TV Telly time may distract from more 'healthy' activities, researchers have suggested

But given that the adults in their research spent, on average, half of their days sitting "engaged in sedentary pursuits", the findings could provide an important public health warning.

Natasha Stewart, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: "This research only suggests a causal association between sedentary behaviour and a shorter life expectancy. It also used American data so we'd need to see more research to understand what it means for the UK population.

"However, it does highlight what we already know about sedentary behaviour being a risk factor for developing heart disease. And recent UK guidelines suggested we should all minimise the time we spend sitting down.

"We all need to be regularly active to keep our hearts healthy. So whether it's by walking to the local shop rather than driving, or playing sport rather than watching it on TV, there are lots of ways to be more active and improve your health."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    So, can I ask for my money back from all the people who have encouraged me to sit down i.e. authors, publishers, game manufacturers, Apple, Microsoft, Adobe, the BBC/ITV/Channel 4 etc, seeing as how all their products are now proven to be life-decreasing? And should all these products now come with health warnings?

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    Anyone else think the cartoon is the best thing about the article?

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    Please people - there's no need to panic! Working an office job (like me) means you are only losing 2 years of your life from the sucky end!
    And by the time you get there, there will only be repeats on the TV so you won't miss much. (In case anyone wants to voice their outrage please note this is written with a tongue in my cheek!)

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    I have to be honest here, with the state of our nursing and care system, the likihood that I could be means tested for benefits and a fair chance that at some point in old age I will be mugged, I have to ask myself do I really want to live a further two years longer just by not sitting down. I think not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    "...increased overall risk of death."

    Death is not a risk, it's an inevitable fact of life.

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    ...cont. from 50. I cycle to work each day (90 min gentle exercise / week) plus I manage one or two 25 min vigerous exercise sessions (x-trainer / run) and even then I am at the low end of the recommended range - yet I am probably in the upper quartile for exercise. Workplace effeciency needs to change me thinks.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    Great news! Now I have actual scientific proof that the work I do is decreasing my lifespan, I intend to charge all my employers and clients some extra "danger money". I shall also be invoicing previous employers!

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    How does this study square with the studies that show people with "higher status" jobs, which generally involve sitting at a desk, live longer than people with lower status jobs, which generally involve moving around?

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    well in todays market you can have hand held devices that allows you to watch tv on the move so it mutes the tv debate a tad lol.
    and this sitting lark does it include time sat on the toilet if so beware what you eat as it will loose you time relaxing on the sofa.

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    So - '' the population studies are unreliable and the targets are unfeasible '' but otherwise this is a really useful report !!!!!!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    Question is, where do we find the time for all the exercise? Our ineffecient workplaces require long hours, which in turn lead to mental tiredness that puts you off going for a run when you get home I agree with many of the comments that this study is poor science but it provokes an interesting debate

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    So you really should die with your boots on ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    No way the Gov will encourage us to watch less TV - how else to pacify the masses?

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    A lot of gereralisation in this article. I am writing this while listening to a Radio 4 programme about working longer. I am one of those people being 70+ & running a small business from home. As I write this I am sitting in front of my PC so I might be shortening my life reading about this & sending this comment!

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    " increased risk of death"

    I suspect the risk of death is 100% in the end

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    42. TreezaGreen
    "Is that it? 2 years .. I'd rather be happy and relaxed sat down than making excuses to stand up just so I can live to be 86 instead of 84" - you will not be saying that when you're 84!

    I'd love to only sit down for less than 3 hours a day. But I have an office job which guarantees I'll be sitting down for 8+ hours a day.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    Have these scientists come from the University of the Bleeding Obvious? Just what will be the next soppy idea they come up with?

    There has never been any doubt that regular exercise extends one's appreciation of life and therefore life itself. There can never be any doubt either that anyone who spends a large part of their day sitting around will be more prone to illnesses.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    Between 1949 and 1953 epidemiologist Jerry Morris showed that London bus conductors had fewer heart attacks than bus drivers and better chances of recovery following a heart attack. He put this down to the sedentary nature of the drivers job, following it up with a study of postmen vs postal clerks.

    Apart from phasing out the job of bus conductors, what has changed over the last 60 years?

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    Is that it? 2 years .. I'd rather be happy and relaxed sat down than making excuses to stand up just so I can live to be 86 instead of 84, what a waste of research money it could have gone on something useful and I might add, the anxiety created by worrying about sitting down too much as it 'leads to premature death' will take YEARS off your life. Utter twaddle.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    I have just worked out how many hours I sit on my ar$e every Saturday night watching "Casualty" and realised that because of this I'm probably going to end up in "Casualty".

    If only they can work this into the script somehow - it would create a rather surreal stotyline.


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