For most, taking the initiative to exercise while performing sedentary work, even intermittently, can be an inconvenient distraction that limits productivity and may result in disappointing our respective authorities.

The alternative for those stuck doing this just to pay the bills can bring about the risk of endangering our own physical well-being.

Beginning in the 1950s, studies were conducted on London bus drivers that found they were twice as likely as bus conductors to succumb to heart attacks. 

Concern grew among communities over rapidly advancing changes in modern lifestyle and employment, primarily those involving sedentary behaviour, and how this key factor has worsened health problems.

Published Paper on Sedentary Pursuits

A 2011 study, published in the peer-reviewed medical journal Diabetologia, was done by academics from Loughborough University and the University of Leicester that revealed the average adult now spends 50-60% of their day in sedentary pursuits.

These findings have also widely been reported by the Daily Mail, BBC and Daily Express. Both the BBC and the Mail supplied a number of quotes from professionals involved in the study.

Stuart Biddle, a professor of Physical Activity and Health at Loughborough University, has said that there are a number of ways we may lower our chair sitting time.

Consider breaking periods of sitting at a computer at work by working on your laptop while standing up. Organise standing meetings, walk during your lunch break, and reduce TV watching in the evenings by substituting it with more activity.

Additional Evidence and Peer Review

Several more reviews and analyses were held to examine correlations between times spent sitting in a chair or lying down, risk of diabetes and cardiovascular diseases like heart failure or heart attack, and death.

After assessing the quality of these studies, they evaluated the data of the study connected with highest sedentary lifestyle and compared data with the lowest, and calculated the results thus.

When necessary, results were dismissed that appeared to be influenced by potentially confounding factors (examples include age, sex, smoking habits, and diet).

Included were a total of 18 studies (16 prospective cohort studies and 2 cross-sectional studies) that examined the parallels between times spent sitting and the risk of health conditions among 794,577 participants.

Examined in total were the association between sitting time and diabetes (10 cases), cardiovascular disease (3 cases), cardiovascular mortality (8 cases), and all-cause mortality (8 cases).

Trials were conducted extensively among a wide range of countries including England, Canada, Japan, Scotland, Germany, USA and Australia. The academics evaluated 15 of the studies to be of impressively high quality.

Resulting Data

After pooling their results, researchers discovered that the highest period sitting in comparison with the lowest period was linked with:

  • 147% increased risk of cardiovascular events.
  • 112% increase in the risk of diabetes.
  • 90% increase in the risk of cardiovascular mortality.
  • 49% increase in the risk of mortality rate.

Despite the studies originating from a variety of countries, and each study performed in a somewhat different manner, the time spent sitting down was reliably associated with poorer health. Researchers limited the analyses to include only results that controlled the amount of overall physical activity.

Data Analysis

Although this altered, the relative risks and ratios, it fell short of changing the conclusion: increased sedentary time is associated with an increased risk of poorer health.

What is then implicitly suggested is that the identified increases in risk were not due to the fact that people who spend longer hours sitting and do lower amounts of vigorous physical activities.

Furthermore, the studies reveal that increased sedentary behaviour is directly linked to increased risk, all of which reinforces expert recommendations that adults ought to undergo at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week.

Researchers concluded that the sedentary period is linked with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cardiovascular and all-cause mortality. The strength of the link is most consistent and correlated with diabetes.

After review of their studies, researchers propose the idea that replacing sedentary performance with standing or light intensity physical activity can reduce the risk of chronic disease as well as lower mortality, independently to the amount of moderate-to-intense physical activity performed.

This establishes the notion that efforts were never mediated by the amount of vigorous physical activity, and suggests that to reduce risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and death, people must replace sedentary activity with standing or physical activity.

Recommendations For Avoiding Sedentary Lifestyle

You can go for a 60-minute walk or run every day, but if you are still sitting down most the day, you’re not getting the benefit you believe you do.

Doing moderate or intense physical activity 150 minutes per week or more and minimising or eliminating the amount of time spent sitting has now become the adopted recommendation from the Department of Health.

In addition, decreasing the amount of one’s sitting time (an alternative example being to hold standing meetings) could also be positive.

Our parents did not have to rely on the gym for physical fitness as they laboured for up to 12 hours a day in coal mines and on farmlands.

These days, however, most of our working day provides very little opportunity for exercise and so compensation for that fact is necessary and should come in the form of light-intensity physical exercise. 

Actionable Takeaways

We must not limit ourselves to remaining locked in one situation over another. Too many dangers can arise if we do so. Be creative—take the trash bag to the dumpster outside, go on lunch runs for co-workers, clean areas of the office that normally aren’t your concern.

Options abound, and with just enough imagination health risks can be held at bay no matter the immobility of the job at hand.