We all know we need to be more active, but there is increasing evidence that we also need to spend less time sitting down.
To reduce our risk of ill health from inactivity, we are advised to exercise regularly – at least 150 minutes a week – and reduce sitting time. Studies have linked excessive sitting with being overweight and obese, type 2 diabetes, some types of cancer, and early death.
Sitting for long periods is thought to slow the metabolism, which affects the body's ability to regulate blood sugar, blood pressure and break down body fat.
Many adults in the UK spend more than seven hours a day sitting or lying, and this typically increases with age to 10 hours or more. This includes watching TV, using a computer, reading, doing homework, travelling by car, bus or train but does not include sleeping.
Move more, sit less
The Start Active, Stay Active report recommends breaking up long periods of sitting time with "shorter bouts of activity for just one to two minutes".
A panel of leading experts, chaired by Professor Stuart Biddle, who reviewed the evidence on sitting for the report recommended taking "an active break from sitting every 30 minutes".
However, there is currently not enough evidence to set a time limit on how much time people should sit each day. Nevertheless, some countries – such as Australia, the US and Finland – have made recommendations that children limit screen time, such as TV and video games, to just one to two hours a day.
Adults aged 19 to 64 are advised to try to sit down less throughout the day, including at work, when travelling and at home.
Tips to reduce sitting time:
- stand on the train or bus
- take the stairs and walk up escalators
- set a reminder to get up every 30 minutes
- place a laptop on a box or similar to work standing
- stand or walk around while on the phone
- take a walk break every time you take a coffee or tea break
- walk to a co-worker's desk instead of emailing or calling
- swap some TV time for more active tasks or hobbies
Some older adults (aged 65 and over) are known to spend 10 hours or more each day sitting or lying down, making them the most sedentary population group.
"It could be partly due to reduced functionality or ill health, but there are also social norms expecting those in later years to 'slow down' and rest," says Professor Biddle. "That's not helpful."
Older adults should aim to minimise the time they spend in extended periods of sitting each day.
"Sitting needs breaking up," says Professor Biddle. "Long periods of TV should be avoided, and you should try to do activities that involve light movement and being 'on your feet' as much as possible. "Do some tasks standing, like having coffee and chats, or even writing a letter – Ernest Hemingway wrote his novels standing."
Tips to reduce sitting time:
- avoid long periods sat in front of a TV or computer
- stand up and move during TV advert breaks
- stand or walk while on the phone
- use the stairs as much as possible
- take up active hobbies such as gardening and DIY
- join in community-based activities, such as dance classes and walking groups
- take up active play with the grandchildren
- do most types of housework
Are you conerned about how long you're sitting for? Complete this simple calculator to find out how long you're sat down throughout the day