Public health perspectives on sedentary behaviour

May 9, 2014 by Don Buchanan, University of Alberta
UAlberta researcher John C. Spence speaks with media during the 2014 Physical Activity Forum May 6. Credit: Zoltan Kenwell

(Medical Xpress)—The average adult is sitting or sedentary for about 9.5 or 10 hours a day—and a University of Alberta researcher wants people to stand up and take notice.

"The norm of needs to be challenged," said John C. Spence at the 2014 Physical Activity Forum hosted by the Alberta Centre for Active Living at the Lister Conference Centre May 6.

Spence, senior research associate with the centre, associate dean of research in the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation and adjunct professor in the School of Public Health, suggested there is a real need to develop solutions or interventions in workplaces, schools and homes to combat the high levels of sedentary behaviour among Albertans and Canadians.

"For instance, workplaces can promote a culture shift to allow for more standing desks, more walking meetings and active breaks," he said. "For schools and parents, promoting more active play among children is a great way to reduce the amount of and screen time for kids."

What is sedentary behaviour?

Spence noted one way to define "sedentary" is that a person spends most of their time sitting or reclining and takes less than 5,000 steps a day.

"There are different ways to approach a definition for sedentary behaviour, but in general, research has provided ample evidence to show that leading a negatively impacts health—even if a person meets recommended levels of , such as those set out in the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines."

Among other research efforts, Spence contributed to the development of the Canadian Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines for the Early Years, published in 2011. He noted that excessive sedentary time is associated with metabolic risk, reduced bone health, some forms of cancer and reduced mental health.

He also said research has shown that too much sedentary time for children and youth contributes to poor self-esteem, weak academic performance, obesity and increased aggression.

Standing up for solutions

"Part of the problem is that we are unaware of how much time we are spending sitting. Plus, many of the environments where we live, study or work are set up to reinforce or even require sitting for long periods," said Spence.

Spence offered a range of insights and possible interventions, but he suggested that even adopting a few simple approaches will help people to move more:

  • For those who can, stand at least once or twice an hour.
  • Take a minimum of 5,000 steps a day.
  • Get outdoors (all ages!) and promote active play.
  • Challenge the "norm" of sitting.
  • Move more and sit less each day.
  • Use active transportation such as walking, cycling or wheeling
  • Walk the dog.

Spence also suggested alternatives for people with mobility issues or who are unable to stand, such as doing upper-body movements or exercises.

"The focus, going forward, needs to be on making personal, cultural and organizational shifts that help standing more and moving more to become the new normal," said Spence. "We also should attempt to break up those really long periods of sitting. Getting up and moving about at least once or twice an hour is a critical first step."

Explore further: Different desks offset idle worker behaviour

Related Stories

Different desks offset idle worker behaviour

August 19, 2013
Office workers are less likely to be inactive if their workplace environment uses sit-stand desks, according to a recent Curtin University study.

Exercising more, sitting less reduces heart failure risk in men

January 21, 2014
Sitting for long periods increases heart failure risk in men, even for those who exercise regularly, according to new research published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation: Heart Failure.

Take a stand and be active to reduce chronic disease, make aging easier, research finds

January 15, 2014
People who decrease sitting time and increase physical activity have a lower risk of chronic disease, according to Kansas State University research.

Regardless of exercise, too much sedentary time is linked to major disability after 60

February 19, 2014
If you're 60 and older, every additional hour a day you spend sitting is linked to doubling the risk of being disabled—regardless of how much moderate exercise you get, reports a new Northwestern Medicine study.

Probing question: Is sitting bad for your health?

November 15, 2013
Think you're healthy because you work out? Although your exercise regimen is good for your body, it may not be enough to counteract the negative effects of sitting.

New guidelines double the dose for recommended physical activity in adults

February 17, 2014
(Medical Xpress)—New guidelines on physical activity that double the levels previously recommended are a "wake up call" for Australians, the lead author says.

Recommended for you

Women run faster after taking newly developed supplement, study finds

January 19, 2018
A new study found that women who took a specially prepared blend of minerals and nutrients for a month saw their 3-mile run times drop by almost a minute.

Americans are getting more sleep

January 19, 2018
Although more than one in three Americans still don't get enough sleep, a new analysis shows first signs of success in the fight for more shut eye. According to data from 181,335 respondents aged 15 and older who participated ...

Wine is good for you—to a point

January 18, 2018
The Mediterranean diet has become synonymous with healthy eating, but there's one thing in it that stands out: It's cool to drink wine.

Sleep better, lose weight?

January 17, 2018
(HealthDay)—Sleeplessness could cost you when it's time to stand on your bathroom scale, a new British study suggests.

Who uses phone apps to track sleep habits? Mostly the healthy and wealthy in US

January 16, 2018
The profile of most Americans who use popular mobile phone apps that track sleep habits is that they are relatively affluent, claim to eat well, and say they are in good health, even if some of them tend to smoke.

Improvements in mortality rates are slowed by rise in obesity in the United States

January 15, 2018
With countless medical advances and efforts to curb smoking, one might expect that life expectancy in the United States would improve. Yet according to recent studies, there's been a reduction in the rate of improvement in ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.