Sitting for long periods may not be bad, after all

14 October 2015

Well, what do we know? Just when experts had convinced everybody that sitting for long stretches of time leads to a whole gamut of heath problems, a new study says there's no harm in it.

The research from the University of Exeter and University College London has challenged the perception that sitting for long periods increases the risk of an early death even if you are otherwise physically active.

The study, which, followed more than 5,000 participants for 16 years (making it one of the longest follow-up studies in this area of research) and found that sitting, either at home or at work, is not associated with an increased risk of dying.

These findings challenge previous research suggesting that the act of sitting itself causes harm even when people routinely walk a lot or do other exercise. Importantly, the findings contradict UK National Health Service recommendations which state that remaining seated for too long is bad for your health, regardless of how much exercise you do.

Researcher Melvyn Hillsdon said that policy makers should be cautious in recommending a reduction in the time spent sitting without also promoting increased physical activity.

Hillsdon added that the study overturns current thinking on the health risks of sitting and indicates that the problem lies in the absence of movement rather than the time spent sitting itself. Any stationary posture where energy expenditure is low may be detrimental to health, be it sitting or standing.

The results cast doubt on the benefits of sit-stand work stations, which employers are increasingly providing to promote healthy working environments, noted Hillsdon.

Lead author Richard Pulsford added that the findings suggest that reducing sitting time might not be quite as important for mortality risk as previously publicised but that encouraging people to be more active should still be a public health priority.

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