Study suggests prolonged sitting may not be so bad for you after all

New research challenges the widely held belief that prolonged periods of sitting is bad for your health.

A study by researchers at the University of Exeter and University College London suggests sitting for long periods doesn’t increase the risk of early death.

The study, published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, followed 5,000 volunteers (3,720 men and 1,412 women) for a period of 16 years. They found that sitting, either at home or at work, was not associated with an increased risk of early death.

The findings contradict NHS Choices’ advice that ‘remaining seated for too long is bad for your health, regardless of how much exercise you do’.

The study’s lead author Dr Richard Pulsford said: ‘Our findings suggest that reducing sitting time might not be quite as important for mortality risk as previously publicised and that encouraging people to be more active should still be a public health priority.’

The study participants filled in a questionnaire that collected details about sitting at work and during leisure time along with information about exercise and other lifestyle habits. The study controlled for external factors such as age, gender and socioeconomic status. The researchers found that over the long study period, sitting habits had no influence on mortality risk.

Dr Melvyn Hillsdon, of the University of Exeter, said:

‘Policy makers should be cautious in recommending a reduction in the time spent sitting without also promoting increased physical activity.’

‘Our study overturns current thinking on the health risks of sitting and indicates that the problem lies in the absence of movement rather than the time spent sitting itself. Any stationary posture where energy expenditure is low may be detrimental to health, be it sitting or standing.’

‘The results cast doubt on the benefits of sit-stand work stations, which employers are increasingly providing to promote healthy working environments.’

  • Next week: breathing is not actually bad for your health.

    Why do I bother? Can’t people claiming to be scientists do something useful for a change, like actually discovering things?

    • Morseman

      Years ago, when I worked for a tyre company, we were having to mould more and more warnings, known as labels, into the sidewalls, largely as a result of US regulations.
      In exasperation, one of our American engineers suggested we do away with all the warning labels except one, which would read:
      Living may be hazardous to your health.

      • Good one! The most pointless, stupid, absurd warning I’ve ever seen is that one that is stubbornly glued to the bottom of all Venetian blinds (at least in the USA — how about England?). The warning is that babies or young children could get caught up in the pull cords. Any child would have to be a reverse Houdini to accomplish this feat. I wonder who thought of it and why. I wonder what it has saved. Meanwhile, printing and gluing all those labels costs money and contributes to pollution.