Can sitting be a killer to your health?

written by Terry Robson

Business people sitting and waiting for job interview Credit: iStock

It’s not news that sitting is bad for you. The phrase “sitting is the new smoking” has slipped neatly into the philosophical zeitgeist. It makes sense that sitting is not healthy but does the research really support the idea of sitting being bad for you? Certainly a new global study suggests that is the case.

The bad news for Australians is that 2015 data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics is that working adults spend an average 22 hours and 10 minutes per week in a combination of sitting for work and travel purposes.

The new study involved analysis of behavioural survey data gathered on more than 1.1 billion adults across more than 54 countries including American, European, Eastern Mediterranean, Southeast Asian and Western Pacific populations. The researchers used the data to assess the sitting time for each population group and compare this with the data on the national population “life table” which estimates how likely a person is to die before their next birthday from any cause.

The results showed that across the 54 countries a sitting time of three hours or more each day was responsible for around 3.8 per cent or 433,000 of all-cause deaths, with sitting time having the biggest impact on death risk in the Western Pacific region.

The bad news for Australians is that 2015 data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics is that working adults spend an average 22 hours and 10 minutes per week in a combination of sitting for work and travel purposes. Yes, your maths is correct: that’s an average of just over three hours per day.

The good news though was that the study found that reducing sitting time, even just by 30 minutes per day, could have an instant impact on death risk by increasing life expectancy by 0.2 years. That is not much but cutting two hours per day off your sitting time reduces your death risk by 300 per cent.

It’s debatable whether “sitting is the new smoking” is entirely accurate but we can surely say that “not sitting is the new living”.


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Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the editor-in-chief of WellBeing.