Sitting – The Unknown Health Risk
We hear all the time about the need to increase our daily physical activity, but we rarely hear about the need for decreasing our sedentary activities. Recent research has offered evidence that the more time we spend sitting in a day, the greater the health risk, regardless of time spent in physical activity (1)! This is big news! With so much focus on achieving our 30+ minutes of physical activity each day, we have forgotten to pay attention to how much time we spend in sedentary behaviors. Even now I’m feeling guilty while writing this because I’m sitting at my kitchen table. I’m probably going to take a break and get up to walk around for a minute!
There are many ways we can decrease the amount of time we spend in sedentary behaviors each day, but I have recently been exposed to research done with children and adolescents about the importance of spending time outdoors in reducing sedentary behaviors (2-4). In a study using information from the Canadian Health Measures Survey, for every hour youth spent outside they increased their physical activity by 7 minutes and decreased their sedentary behaviors by 13 minutes (4). While this might not seem much, imagine how much this would add up to over a week, a month, a year, a lifetime! Not only are these kids getting more physical activity each day, they’re decreasing the amount of time they spend sitting, which means more energy expenditure even when they’re not running around and playing!
The studies I read were about children and adolescents, but that’s not to say the results can’t apply to adults too! Think about it – going outside makes you more likely to be physically active, even if it’s just light physical activity like strolling around your yard or standing and watching your kids play a game. Spending time in your yard means you might notice some weeds that need to be pulled and kneel down to pull them out, or you might see your dog and realize it could use a walk. If you don’t have a yard, you might head to the park and walk around a walking trail or play Frisbee with some friends. Heading outside on your lunch break could lead you on a quick walk around the block or on a jaunt to the park for a picnic.
Think of ways you can increase your time outside. Try getting out for a walk before or after work. Head out with some coworkers during lunch, or even just step outside for a quick 10 minute break during the day. Instead of sitting down on the couch to relax when you get home from work, head outside to take a breath of fresh air or take a relaxing bike ride. Round up the whole family and take them outside for a game or a family walk.
Definitely keep exercising and logging those minutes of physical activity, but don’t forget to keep moving throughout the day! Take hourly breaks. Head outside! Breathe in some fresh air and cut back on sitting time!
1. Owen, N., Healy, G. N., Matthews, C. E., & Dunstan, D. W. (2010). Too much sitting: the population-health science of sedentary behavior. Exercise and sport sciences reviews, 38(3), 105.
2. Schaefer, L., Plotnikoff, R. C., Majumdar, S. R., Mollard, R., Woo, M., Sadman, R., ... & Veugelers, P. (2014). Outdoor time is associated with physical activity, sedentary time, and cardiorespiratory fitness in youth. The Journal of pediatrics, 165(3), 516-521.
3. Gray, C., Gibbons, R., Larouche, R., Sandseter, E. B. H., Bienenstock, A., Brussoni, M., ... & Power, M. (2015). What is the relationship between outdoor time and physical activity, sedentary behaviour, and physical fitness in children? A systematic review. International journal of environmental research and public health, 12(6), 6455-6474.
4. Larouche, R., Garriguet, D., Gunnell, K. E., Goldfield, G. S., & Tremblay, M. S. (2016). Outdoor time, physical activity, sedentary time, and health indicators at ages 7 to 14: 2012/2013 Canadian Health Measures Survey. Health Reports, 27(9), 3.