Is sitting the new smoking?

According to recent research, sitting for too long is bad for your health, even if you exercise regularly. Studies have linked excessive sitting with type 2 diabetes, some types of cancer and even premature death.

The link between illness and sitting first emerged in the 1950s, when researchers found London bus drivers were twice as likely to have heart attacks as their bus conductor colleagues.

Prolonged sitting is thought to slow the metabolism, which affects the body's ability to regulate blood sugar, blood pressure and break down body fat. It may even cause weaker muscles and bones.

Many people in the UK spend more than seven hours a day sitting or lying, and this typically increases with age. This includes watching TV, reading, sitting at a desk or driving but excludes sleeping.

One of the largest pieces of research – involving almost 800,000 people – found that, compared with those who sat the least, people who sat the longest had a:

  • • 112% increase in risk of diabetes
  • • 147% increase in cardiovascular events
  • • 90% increase in death caused by cardiovascular events
  • • 49% increase in death from any cause

What can we do to lessen the risks?

Experts advise breaking up long periods of sitting time with short bouts of activity for just one to two minutes. They recommend an “active break” from sitting every 30 minutes. This advice applies to everyone, even people who exercise regularly, because too much sitting is recognised as an independent risk factor for ill health.

Other tips to reduce your sitting time:

  • • stand on the train or bus
  • • use the stairs or walk up escalators
  • • set a reminder to get up every 30 minutes
  • • alternate working while seated with standing
  • • stand or walk around while on the phone
  • • take a walk break every time you take a tea break
  • • walk to a co-worker's desk instead of emailing or calling
  • • avoid long periods sat in front of a TV or computer
  • • stand up and move during TV advert breaks

Standing Up