Sitting too much, known as sedentary behaviour, has been linked to increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and premature death according to a recent Canadian study, the National Heart Foundation says.
The study found that more than half of the average person’s waking hours are spent sitting: watching television, working at a computer, commuting or doing other physically inactive pursuits.
National Heart Foundation CEO, Mary Barry, says epidemic levels of sedentary behaviour have the potential to consign present and future generations of Australians to live lives under the shadow of ill health and early death.
“Just as smoking destroyed the health of generations of Australians, so too does sedentary behaviour have the potential to consign too many of us to an early grave,” Barry says.
“While the health impacts of smoking are only too well known, the sad reality is that the health impacts of sitting too much are either not known as well or taken seriously enough.
“Our modern everyday world is encouraging us to live more sedentary lives than ever, whether this involves sitting behind a desk at work, commuting to and from work or sitting on the couch watching TV or playing computer games.
“We’re oblivious to the very real harm that sitting too much exposes us to, including a heightened risk of heart disease, diabetes and poor mental and emotional health among other chronic health conditions.
Barry says the Canadian study involved compiling and analysing the findings of 47 studies that looked at the health effects of sedentary behaviour. Researchers adjusted for other types of activity people did, from leisure-time activities to vigorous exercise.
“Disturbingly, researchers found that people who sat for prolonged periods of time had a higher risk of dying from all causes – even those who exercised regularly. These negative effects were even more pronounced in people who did little or no physical activity.
“What this absolutely highlights is the need for people to break up periods of prolonged sitting with regular movement during the course of their day.
“We need to encourage people to get up and moving, even if it is just for a couple of minutes every hour. They can build up their activity levels gradually and feel the benefits.”
Barry says initiatives to encourage Australians to become less sedentary must be integral to the development of a comprehensive, funded National Physical Activity Action Plan.
“Key to achieving this will be the National Heart Foundation’s upcoming Physical Activity Consensus Forum at Parliament House, Canberra on Friday, 11 September,” she says.
“Bringing together renowned local and international physical activity experts and policy advocates as well as representatives from government and the public health sector, the forum aims to determine a pathway to a fitter, healthier Australia.
“This includes developing the foundation of a comprehensive National Physical Activity Action Plan to encourage Australians to move more and sit less.
“An important element of such a plan would involve initiatives to encourage workplaces to implement activities such as walking meetings, providing sit/stand workstations, encouraging physical activity and supporting walking and cycling to meetings and to work.
“Ultimately, this won’t just be good for individuals; it will be good for business and the wider economy.”