Researchers from the University of Exeter and University College London may have successfully debunked the popular belief that sitting down for long periods of time may cause health problems and death, regardless of being physically active.

Associations between sitting and increased risk of all-cause death, independent of moderate to intense exercise have been developed. In this new study, British academics aim to boost the available evidence through studying the type-specific prospective links of four varied sitting behaviors, as well as total sitting down with all-cause deaths risks.

The study involved 3,720 men and 1,412 women from the Whitehall II study cohort. The participants disclosed information regarding total sitting time and details of four identified behaviors, which include sitting while working, while on leisure, while watching television and while sitting during recreational time excluding watching television. Duration of daily walking, as well as details of moderate to intense exercise were also obtained. The researchers also considered demographic data such as age, ethnicity and gender; socioeconomic details; health history including general health, alcohol drinking, smoking and diet.

The study was run for 16 years, heralding it as one of the studies in this area of research that have the longest follow-up. After the analysis, the researchers found that all sitting measures identified at the beginning of the study did not have an impact on mortality risk.

"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," said Dr. Melvyn Hillsdon from the University of Exeter. She added that non-moving posture that expends low amounts of energy may be dangerous to health, whether it be standing or sitting.

The results of the study now challenges previous research findings suggesting that the actual act of sitting is the very cause of harm even if individuals regularly walk or exert physical activity.

Most importantly, the study refutes the recommendations of the NHS pertaining to the bad effects of sitting for too long, no matter how much physical activity is performed.

For Hillsdon, policy makers should be careful in suggesting decreased sitting times without encouraging increased exercise.

Dr. Richard Pulsford, lead author of the study from the University of Exeter said the study findings suggest that lessening the time spent on sitting may not be as crucial to death risks as previously believed, and that urging people to be more active should still be a priority for public health.

In the future, the associations between extended sitting and specific diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease will be considered.

The study was published in the International Journal of Epidemiology on Friday, Oct. 9.

Photo: Aaron Paxson | Flickr

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