Got a desk job? Like to watch TV? Do you just enjoy sitting on your butt all day? We’ve got some good news: A group of scientists have challenged the idea that a sedentary lifestyle shaves years off a person’s life.
For the last few years, scientists, doctors, and public health efforts have warned about the dangers of sitting down for hours at a time. More recent studies argued that even regular exercise couldn’t undo the damage caused by prolonged sitting.
According to a paper published last week in the International Journal of Epidemiology, this is just plain wrong. Between 1997 and 1999, researchers from the University of Exeter and University College London interviewed 3720 men and 1412 women about their sitting habits. They asked about total sitting time, as well as the context. Study participants reported if they were sitting at work, in front of the TV, or enjoying non-TV leisure time. They answered questions about how far they walked each day as well as how often and how vigorously they exercised.
Last year, the researchers followed up to see how their study participants were doing. The results showed no relationship between sitting and an increased risk of dying, even for people who didn’t exercise.
These findings contradict not only previous studies but also public health campaigns. Recommendations from Britain’s National Health Service have focused on the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle, rather than encouraging people to exercise.
Lead author Richard Pulsford thinks it might be time for those recommendations to change. “Reducing sitting time might not be quite as important for mortality risk as previously publicized,” he said in a recent press release, “and encouraging people to be more active should still be a public health priority.”
The problem is not sitting, agreed coauthor Melvyn Hillsdon, but the absence of movement. “Any stationary posture where energy expenditure is low may be detrimental to health, be it sitting or standing.”
Yes, that includes standing up to work. Hillsdon said the study results even “cast doubt on the benefits of sit-stand workstations.”