Sitting for long periods 'is bad for your health'

Watching TV Not the best thing to do after a day sitting at your desk

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Sitting for long periods increases the risk of diabetes, heart disease and death, researchers suggest.

The scientists from Leicester and Loughborough Universities say harm is done even if people also exercise.

The study, published in Diabetologia, analysed 18 existing studies involving almost 800,000 people.

Diabetes UK said anyone who spent a lot of time sitting or lying down would "obviously benefit" from moving more.

The researchers say the opportunities for sedentary behaviour in modern society such as watching TV, sitting in a car or using a computer are "ubiquitous".

Of course, in modern society many people head to the gym for a burst of exercise to redress the balance.

But the research team, led by Dr Emma Wilmot from the Diabetes Group at the University of Leicester, says while going to the gym or pool after work is better than heading straight for the sofa, spending a long time sitting down remains bad for you.

Healthy lifestyle?

Each of the studies they assessed used different measures - for example more or less than 14 hours a week watching TV, or self-reported sitting time of less than three hours a day to more than eight.

The researchers say this means it is not possible to give an absolute limit for how much sedentary time is bad for you.

But Dr Emma Wilmot, who led the study, said it was clear that those who sat the most had a higher risk of diabetes, heart disease and death than those who sat the least.

Start Quote

We can have standing meetings, we can walk during the lunch break, and we can look to reduce TV viewing in the evenings by seeking out less sedentary behaviours”

End Quote Prof Stuart Biddle, Loughborough University

She said: "If a worker sits at their desk all day then goes to the gym, while their colleague heads home to watch TV, then the gym-goer will have better health outcomes.

"But there is still a health risk because of the amount of sitting they do.

"Comparatively, the risk for a waiter who is on their feet all day is going to be a lot lower."

She added: "People convince themselves they are living a healthy lifestyle, doing their 30 minutes of exercise a day.

"But they need to think about the other 23.5 hours."

'Easy change'

The strongest associations in the analysis were between prolonged sitting and diabetes.

There is evidence that being sedentary negatively affects glucose levels and increases insulin resistance - but scientists do not yet know how.

Dr Wilmot said the study's message could help those at high risk of diabetes, such as obese people or those of South Asian ethnic origin, because it was an easy lifestyle change to make.

Prof Stuart Biddle, of Loughborough University, who also worked on the study, said: "There are many ways we can reduce our sitting time, such as breaking up long periods at the computer at work by placing our laptop on a filing cabinet.

"We can have standing meetings, we can walk during the lunch break, and we can look to reduce TV viewing in the evenings by seeking out less sedentary behaviours."

Dr Matthew Hobbs, head of research at Diabetes UK, said people should not be discouraged from exercising.

He added: "What is clear is that anyone who spends lots of time sitting or lying down would benefit from replacing some of that time by standing or walking.

"Aside from any direct effect reducing the amount of time you spend sitting down may have, getting more physical activity is a great way of helping maintain a healthy weight, which is the best way of minimising your risk of Type 2 diabetes."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 116.

    I recently "converted" my desk to a standing one due to some other reports I read on this issue (54% less likely to have a heart attack if you stand for more than 2.5 hours a day). Finding time to excersise is difficult but standing up for a few hours a day at work is actually quite fun.
    I did this by simply raising my keyboard and mouse on blocks of office paper, it's both secure and cheap.

  • rate this

    Comment number 115.

    What about disabled people who are in wheelchairs all day, few have opportunities to go out to work never mind the gym or other forms of exercise despite the paraolympic teams successes. Living in rural areas poor public transport and inaccessability to facilities can exclude people with disabililities in wheelchairs. Were they also included in the research.What is the prognosis for them?

  • rate this

    Comment number 114.

    Walking is fine (and I do it to and from work, 30 mins each way, and for pleasure at weekends, as well as plenty of housework etc.) but prolonged standing is incredibly uncomfortable. When waiting for a bus or train, I choose to pace up and down in preference. I can't imagine who would be happy with a standing desk or standing meetings.

  • rate this

    Comment number 113.

    I work in an office, sitting down a lot. should i now claim compansation for it...?

    Seems all the rage, anyways.

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    Putting a laptop on a filing cabinet to work standing up = ridiculous suggestion. Is that what these scientists do?

  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    Our homes and gardens are getting smaller, we have no time to cook, so buy all this ready made food instead - the fact is that after late hours at work and long commute we are just about ready to fall onto the sofa and watch whatever rubbish is there. Saying to us "move more" won't make any difference, if the reasons for sedentary lifestyle are still here.

  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    I would like to ask whether the scientists that did the research was sitting down or standing up, when they analysed their findings?

    The answer could be ironic!

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    Standing meetings are a great idea. I often do it, even if I am the only one. It's better than falling asleep.
    Work a desk job standing up! And once an hour or so, sit down and relax your legs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    As a diabetic who's also competed in sports at a national and international level, the generalisation that all diabetics are fat and all fat people are diabetics really p***es me off. It won't be long until, according to studies, watching the x-factor once a week causes cancer...

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    Well, who would have thought that!!!!!!!!!!! Had I not read this 'news' item, I would never have been able to work that out myself!

  • Comment number 106.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    To all those who think the study is a waste of time. The study backs up anecdotal evidence observed by every healthcare worker. I am told by a consultant he is treating 4 times the patients for complications from diabetes compared to 25 years ago. He notes that inactivity is an even greater factor than being overweight. Don't take to sitting, get away from your desk at lunchtime, take a walk etc.

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    "it was clear that those who sat the most had a higher risk of diabetes, heart disease and death than those who sat the least."

    Nope - standing, sitting, sleeping or jumping up and down, we all have a 100% 'risk' of death.

    And how long did the authors of this "research" spend sitting on their backsides writing up so much twaddle.

  • rate this

    Comment number 103.

    I'm pretty sure everyone's at risk of death!

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    Since it is universally known that some measure of exercise is required for health, doesn't this qualify as yet another study from the "Department of the B***** Obvious"?

    I suppose that attempting to quantify the situation does have value, but I wonder about the cost.

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    Doing anything for long periods increases the risk of death. Death being a time delimited condition.

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    Being in front of a computer all my working life I can say: no **** sherlock. Desk health and safety should always be trained when entering such a job if you haven't already had it, yes it sounds stupid but it really does help you from falling prey to chronic back pain and other such illnesses.

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    Why does this remind me of the joke where a guy is told he has to go out more and take more walks?

    And he works as a mailman?

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    @20 more legislation, good idea lets make more annoying health and safety rules that bury common sense another metre deeper under the ground

  • Comment number 97.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.


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