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Long periods of sitting linked to poor health

By David McNamee

A study has examined the links between sedentary lifestyles – people who spend much of each day sitting down, without much exercise – and an increased risk of serious diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease.

What do we know already?

We know that if you take regular physical exercise it reduces your risk of getting serious, long-term diseases. Heart disease, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and some cancers are all less likely in people who have kept physically active throughout their life.

Previous research has also shown us that some kinds of sedentary behaviour, such as sitting down for long periods and watching television for long periods each day, increase the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease or getting diabetes.

This latest study included 63,048 Australian men aged 45 to 64 years old who were taking part in an ongoing study on healthy ageing. The men recorded how many hours in each day they usually spent sitting down. They were divided into four groups: those who spent less than four hours a day sitting, or those who spent between four and six, or six and eight, or eight hours or more a day sitting down.

What does the new study say?

People who spent more than four hours sitting down each day were more likely to also have cancer, diabetes, heart disease, or high blood pressure.

The longer people spent sitting down, the more likely they were to have one of these illnesses.

How reliable is the research?

This was a large, well-conducted study. However, the study can’t prove that sitting caused the diseases. For instance, the men who have these kinds of diseases may have spent more time sitting because their illness limits how much physical activity they can do. This would affect their risk of other serious, long-term diseases.

What does this mean for me?

Although the study just looked at middle-aged men, the researchers think the results may also apply to other genders, races, and ethnicities. But we can’t tell from this study if this is true.

If you spend more than four hours sitting each day as part of your job or your home life, remember that it’s important to also take regular physical exercise, such as jogging, swimming, cycling, tennis, or aerobics.


George ES, Rosenkranz RR, Kolt GS. Chronic disease and sitting time in middle-aged Australian males: findings from the 45 and Up Study. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. Published online 8 February 2013.

Feb 22, 2013