A new alarming research states that 70,000 deaths a year are caused by our increasingly sedentary lives


Sitting comfortably? Well, try not to stay too long like that – doing so could seriously damage your health.

Many of us spend nine hours a day or more sitting down and this is not just at work – according to the new figures more than a third of people spend more time sitting over the weekend than they do at the desk, with leisure often dominated from the screen time, if this is folded in front of the TV or surf the net on a computer.

It is a habit that is not only bad news for the shoulders, it increases the risk of serious diseases, even premature death. Indeed, a study published today suggests that long periods spent sitting contributed to 70,000 deaths in 2016 in the UK, and for the first time put a figure on its cost to the NHS: £ 700m a year.

The session seems to have an independent impact, influencing the way our hormones behave, how our metabolism works and our brain functions - it can even start inflammation in the body (file image)

The session seems to have an independent impact, influencing the way our hormones behave, the functioning of our metabolism and brain function – it can even start inflammation in the body (file image)

And these figures are conservative, according to researchers at Queen's University of Belfast and Ulster University in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health. They concluded that measures should be taken to reduce sedentary behavior in order to improve the health of the population and reduce the financial burden on the health service.

The danger is not simply that spending long periods of time doing nothing means you are more likely to become obese (which in itself increases the risk of many diseases).

The session seems to have an independent impact, influencing the way our hormones behave, the functioning of our metabolism and brain function – it can even start the inflammation of the body.

The number of health conditions associated with prolonged periods of sitting makes reading uncomfortable: cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, some forms of cancer such as lung cancer and premature death from all causes.

It also affects the brain, with studies showing that it can impact the mood, cognition, memory and increase the risk of dementia.

Even gym-goers cannot be protected, the research suggests – if they then spend the rest of the day sitting.

Sitting seems to have such a negative impact on our health that some have called it the new smoke. "I don't think he's exaggerating," says Dr. Carolyn Grieg, a reader of musculoskeletal aging and health at the University of Birmingham.

"There are few things that have an impact on so many different elements of our well-being."

And the dott. Mike Brannan, national leader in physical activity at Public Health England, says: "Even if you are physically active, sitting for long periods damages your health and greatly increases the risks of a wide range of conditions. health".


So why is bad news sitting? An area under review is how periods of inactivity change the way hormones behave like insulin. Insulin helps keep blood sugar levels within normal limits by "cleaning up" the excess sugar in the cells.

Preliminary research on animals has found that a prolonged session reduces the activity of some of the enzymes responsible for this type of clarification, leaving more fat and sugar circulating in the blood, explains Dr. Stacy Clemes, a reader of active life and public health at Loughborough University.

"So if you sit for long periods, research shows that your body's insulin response, after eating, becomes less effective. This can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes."

While she adds that this research has not yet been replicated in humans, "what has been shown in many studies is that if you regularly break your sitting time it seems to be particularly useful for controlling blood sugar in particular".

When it comes to heart disease, there can be many factors, not least the fact that the session seems to lead to an increase in cholesterol, adds Martin Cowie, a consultant cardiologist at the Royal Brompton Hospital and a professor of cardiology at the Imperial College from London. "The muscles become deconditioned and are not so good at using cholesterol because they would normally lead to greater circulation in the blood," he says.

Furthermore, it states that inactivity reduces the ratio of useful HDL cholesterol to harmful LDL cholesterol. HDL can slow or even reduce the arteries.

Multiple studies, in an attempt to understand why sitting so badly for us, have begun to look at what it does at levels of inflammatory markers. Inflammation is the body's response to injury; induces the release of chemicals that induce inflammation as part of the healing process.

Preliminary research on animals has found that a prolonged session reduces the activity of some of the enzymes responsible for this type of clarification, leaving more fat and sugar circulating in the blood, explains Dr. Stacy Clemes, a reader of active life and public health at Loughborough University (file image)

Preliminary research on animals has found that a prolonged session reduces the activity of some of the enzymes responsible for this type of clarification, leaving more fat and sugar circulating in the blood, explains Dr. Stacy Clemes, a reader of active life and public health at Loughborough University (file image)

This is fine if you have a cut on your finger, but the chronic inflammation in a blood vessel, for example, could actually be harmful. Indeed chronic low-level inflammation is now linked to several diseases, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease and perhaps depression.

One study, which monitored activity levels in 558 GP patients throughout Leicestershire by providing them with motion sensors, found that those who moved less and spent more time sitting had the highest levels of chemicals such as ; interleukin and leptin, which are associated with inflammation.

Regarding its effect on the brain, people who sit for long periods have a reduced thickness in the medial temporal lobe, the part that plays a key role in the formation of new memories and spatial awareness, according to a study published in the journal PLoS One l & Last year.

In the study, 35 people aged 45 to 75 received MRI brain scans and asked to record their sitting times for a week – the MRI was then repeated at the end of the week.

Those seated longer had thinner medial temporal lobes. The researchers said why it is not clear, but commented: "Sedentary behavior appears to have direct neurobiological effects".

The very fact that sedentary behavior affects the cardiovascular system and the impact on blood sugar levels will also have an impact on the brain – as well as the fact that it triggers inflammation. It is thought to even reduce the turnover of new brain cells.


It can be assumed that the negative effects of the session are largely limited to those with a couch-style lifestyle, but the evidence suggests that even those who meet the recommended levels of physical exercise cannot restrain the negative effects that entails a prolonged session.

In other words, it is not possible to undo the damage caused by a day sitting in the office by jumping into the gym while returning home.

For example, a 2017 US study involving 8,000 adults published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that prolonged periods of sitting increased the risk of premature death regardless of other factors such as the amount of exercise they did.

And a study published last year in the journal JNCI Cancer Spectrum found that two hours spent watching TV a day was associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancer by 70%, regardless of weight and regardless of whether the study participants did some form of exercise.

In other words the exercise (while it will have other benefits) cannot undo the negative effects of sitting too long. "I used to think," I'm fine, I can sit for work but I do a lot of exercises ", then the tests begin that there seems to be some sort of independent connection with the session and it's strengthened and stronger," says Dr. Clemes.

In fact, to cancel the negative impact of the session for eight hours a day it is necessary to carry out an intense moderate activity of 60-75 minutes a day, well beyond the moderate exercise of 150 minutes (how to walk at a fast pace) per week the current guidelines recommend for those between 19 and 64, according to a 2016 study in The Lancet.

So is the new smoke, as sometimes described? Some in the scientific community believe that the analogy of smoking does not help.

A document from last year in the American Journal of Public Health pointed out that while excessive sitting (defined by more than eight hours a day) increases the risk of chronic diseases and premature death by 10-20%, smoking increases the risk of premature death of 180%. Yet many more people sit for hours, particularly office workers, than smoke, so the problem probably affects millions more.

In fact, when considering some of the risks associated with over-sitting, if they referred to a food product or a beverage, it is unlikely that it would be sold for children under 18 and would almost certainly be subject to punitive taxes.

The authors of the JNCI Cancer Spectrum study last year said that while it was not clear how the prolonged session was related to colorectal cancer, they hypothesized that it could explain why rates of this cancer are on the rise among under 50 – which are more sedentary today than in the past.

Scientists like Dr. Griegs are now trying to find out exactly why they sit so badly – and at what point they put their feet up and have a bit of rest, he is pointing into the danger zone and starting to have a negative impact. "Working out exactly what we sit on and physiologically trying to generate data means we can make specific recommendations about the session," he says.

At the moment, the view of the experts is unequivocal. "People should sit less and move more," says Dr. Brannan. Yet the official orientation is vague.

Executive Health and Safety advises employees to have screen interruptions of five to ten minutes per hour.

However, a 2011 report called Start Active Stay Active published by the four major medical officers in the UK only recommended that "all adults should minimize the amount of time spent sedentary (sitting) for long periods." But what extended period has not been clarified. "At the moment, we cannot say that many hours are too many, but the tests are getting stronger to regularly interrupt the session – and after every 30 minutes getting up and moving", says Dr. Clemes.

But to do so, people need to become more aware of how long they are spending a session – they currently tend to underestimate him wildly.


Research involving cutting-edge motion sensors has found that people spend about two and a half hours more time a day than they think they do, says Sebastien Chastin, professor of behavioral dynamics at the Glasgow Caledonian University, who conducted several studies analyzing the sitting habits.

"I have found that people usually spend more than ten hours a day sitting – and what's surprising is how widespread it is – all kinds of people, all ages do it.

& # 39; Even when I looked at my data my reaction was "wow" – I am 37 years old and I do physical activity almost every day of my life – I thought I had spent six or seven hours, in fact I spend ten. "And the older you get, the more time you tend to sit.

"It is not uncommon for the elderly to sit continuously for four hours a day," says Dr. Grieg.

So what's the answer? Some experts argue that an exercise just as important as a vigorous exercise encourages people to undertake physical activity at a lighter intensity – in other words moving a little more, at home or at work, to reduce the amount of time spent seated.

"Over the years, time spent in sports has not changed much, but what has changed is the time we devote to light activities," says Professor Chastin.

"Mechanization at work, gadgets for household chores, more screen time, more inactive transport, more time spent on education, different types of work means that we have less ancillary light activities in our lives.

"It has crept on us and we have not seen it."

The guidelines published by Public Health England in 2014 recognized that "reducing inactivity could prevent up to 40% of many long-term conditions".

However, while there are pages on how to get more exercise, the session is dealt with in a few sentences expressing that: "while an increasing number of tests highlight the risks of sedentary behavior, we still do not know what the exact level of damage is. However, we should avoid being sedentary for long periods. "

But there are signs that the message about the need to move more is being heard.

At Loughborough University, where Dr. Clemes, have taken steps to build more activities in everyday life.

"So we shared bins and printers in the corridor rather than from our desks, so we have to get up and go to them," he says.

"We also have a meeting room with standing desks."


The seating / standing areas, which allow people to vary their day between sitting and standing, have gained much attention. At first glance it might seem like a good idea, but it's not that simple.

"The seats / stand desks are great for reducing sitting time at work, but there is a tendency to be more at home," says Dr. Clemes.

"We found that during the measurement of employees sitting and standing during and outside working hours before and after receiving a seat, they reduced the overall sitting time to work after three months by 20%, but they increased their rest time at home after the 8 percent job.

"As we witnessed an increase in home sitting, the employees continued to record an overall reduction in the total daily sitting time, which is very positive."

And, as with everything, it is possible to have too many good things, even to stand.

"The research says that (a stand / stand desk) simply shifts the load," says Ashley James, an occupational health physiotherapist in Liverpool. "If you use a standing table, the lower back pain decreases, but the pain in the leg, calf and ankle may increase. The best way to use the desk is with variation." In other words, it changes regularly between the sitting position and the one standing.

However, he thinks it is essential not to sit or stay too long.

& # 39; e & # 39; It is important to say that not all seated seats are bad – in fact there is good evidence in workers who, sitting for a certain amount of time a day, reduce the risk of injury. He's doing too much of a thing that's the problem. "

Ashley James believes that walking ten minutes every hour can be just as good – and much cheaper than desks.

What we learned from the bus drivers

The dangers of the session were identified for the first time at a time of what might appear to be medical serendipity – when researchers found that bus, tram and trolleybus drivers were less likely to develop heart disease than their less-active colleagues .

A study started in 1949 examined the absence of work and the medical records of 31,000 employees of the London Transport – the researchers noted a difference in coronary heart disease between conductors (who were often crossing two bridges) and drivers.

The study, published in 1954 in the British Journal of Industrial Medicine, led to a follow-up work, including a similar study between postal workers and telephone operators in the civil service.

The research is now extended to NASA, looking at the sedentary behavior in space.

And Dr. Clemes has just completed a four-and-a-half-year pilot study in eight primary schools – four of which were provided by six standing stands for the children to use – and found that they made a distinct difference.

"The teachers reported that the standing benches have improved the concentration of children and improved behavior," says Dr. Clemes. "But the biggest promising effect was the improvement he had in reading the scores."

Many of the children using the sit / stand encountered the expected reading level compared to those in the class who were not.

"We know from studies that children who sit a lot can become adults who sit a lot and our thought is that if we can come in early and change their mentality these children will be less likely to be so sedentary," he says.

But what about people at home?

"We probably need more public health messages to get through that session for long periods, it's unhealthy and we need to break the session," says Dr. Clemes. "I also think we need to be careful not to discriminate against people who may not be physically able – there are things that people can do to get more movement involving the upper body."

A laboratory-based study is starting to test whether the use of arm resistance bands (large bands that can help give the muscles a workout by providing resistance to pull against) has a beneficial effect on older and more sedentary patients .

This follows research published in 2017 in the journal Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism which found that blood sugar levels in obese patients who used a crank for five minutes every 30 minutes decreased by 57% after meals compared to those who were inactive .

In fact, while waiting / booths and new office projects may be helpful, a concern is that the impact of sedentary behavior may have the greatest effect on the most fragile – for example the elderly and patients hospital. Yet those are often the people who sit the most.

"We know that, after 48 hours of bed rest, people are already losing muscle and bone health – our bodies are made to move," says Professor Chastin.

"So, in a geriatric ward, why are we keeping people sitting for so long? I know people are afraid of falling, but we need to get patients out of bed and move more."

Hospitals are reducing the time patients spend in bed – "pajama paralysis" – as the figures show that doubling the amount of time spent on the move can reduce the time a patient has to spend in the hospital.

But Professor Chastin says that while science is developing, the general message is clear enough: "It doesn't matter where you are, how old you are or what you are, it's important to move."

How to sit less: get rid of the TV remote control!

  • Move everyday objects that you need out of reach – and don't use the remote control, go to the TV and walk during commercial breaks
  • Use a timer to remind you to move, even if only for a few minutes every hour – wear a fitness tracker so you can see how you are improving your movements day after day.
  • Fidget while you sit. The prolonged session allows the blood flow in the legs to slow down, which over time can contribute to cardiovascular diseases. However, a 2016 study in circulatory and cardiac physiology found that tapping every four minutes could improve blood flow. Fidgeting also burns more calories.
  • At work, exchange meeting sessions to talk while walking or standing.
  • If you are on the phone and go around.
  • Stand on public transport.
  • Meet friends for a walk rather than sit in a bar.

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