According to a recent study, sitting for long lengths of time isn’t as unhealthy as previously thought, provided that individuals lead otherwise active lives.
The paper, published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, was authored by experts at the University of Exeter and University College London.
Data pertaining to 5,000 participants was analyzed, over a period of 16 years, in order to determine daily routines, such as the amount of time spent sitting at work and during spare time. 3,720 men and 1,412 women were included in the study, and all of them worked as civil servants in London.
Scientists took into account demographic data such as gender, age, ethnicity, socioeconomic status. They also incorporated information such as general health, eating habits, cigarette and alcohol use, as well as the amount of physical exercise and daily walking.
The results of the study were surprising, since they revealed that spending a vast amount of time sitting doesn’t heighten the risk of premature death, and there may be other much more important factors at play instead.
“Our findings suggest that reducing sitting time might not be quite as important for mortality risk as previously publicized”, declared lead author Richard Pulsford, researcher in the sport and health sciences department at the University of Exeter.
Nevertheless, Pulsford does concede that promoting an active lifestyle should remain “a public health priority”. That is because what matters in fact is the mobility and energy expenditure that individuals display, whether they are sitting or standing.
Non-moving postures are damaging, whatever the position involved, which suggests that investing in sit/stand stations is not necessarily a life-saving idea.
While the negative effects of sitting didn’t seem so obvious among the respondents, an interesting aspect was that they actually spent almost twice as much time walking in comparison with the rest of the British population.
It may be because as civil servants they tend to use London’s public transportation much more frequently, instead of opting for private vehicles that are more convenient. Given this particularity, the subjects aren’t as sedentary as other population categories, which counteracts the effects of their prolonged sitting.
Even with this exception in mind, the study does seem to contradict prior research which claimed people who sit the longest risk cardiovascular disease, diabetes and premature death.
For example, based on a trial involving 800,0000 participants, the National Health Service has been urging people to get up and move every 30 minutes, in order to guard themselves against the dangers of sitting.
Similarly, James Levine, researcher at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, insists that “excessive sitting is a lethal activity”. Actually, the dangers of sitting are so well-documented that this habit has also been nicknamed “the new smoking”.
For now, the study authors believe that follow-up research must be carried out, in order to assess the prevalence of diabetes among those who sit for extended lengths of time. It must also be determined if the culprit is the actual physical posture which sitting involves, or if absence of movement is the real enemy.
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