Australia is a sitting time bomb

If you’re an older, unmarried male who is educated and works full time with a high income, chances are a significant proportion of your day revolves around a chair or a seat – at considerable risk to your long term health.

The call for men of this demographic – along with other population profiles at risk – to stand up and take notice of this latest research will be made this week at Sports Medicine Australia’s be active 2014 conference, as part of a series of presentations addressing Australia’s increasing physical inactivity levels.

Professor Ronald Plotnikoff, Priority Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition, University of Newcastle, found living in non-urban regions, being obese and having a severe physical limitation are all factors also associated with prolonged periods of sitting and a consequent greater risk of chronic disease and poor mental health.

However in good news for this cohort of at risk Australians, research presented by Associate Professor Emmanuel Stamatakis, Charles Perkins Centre, University of Sydney, revealed that replacing each hour of daily sitting with equal amounts of standing is linked to a substantial reduction in mortality risk of up to 5 per cent per hour of sitting replaced.

“Based on our statistical modelling, this means that replacing a realistic amount of daily sitting time – such as 3 hours per day – with equivalent amounts of even very light physical activity could result in considerable important health benefits,” Dr Stamatakis said.

“Replacing sitting with walking and other moderate to vigorous physical activity resulted in a much larger reduction in mortality risk of 12 to 14 per cent per hour of sitting replacement.”

Dr Stamatakis urged office based employers to take action to address the extent of sitting time in the workplace and promote opportunities for their employees to move more during work hours.

“It is absolutely imperative to find ways to incorporate some sort of movement into the daily office routine, even if only of a light intensity,” Dr Stamatakis said.

“I believe in twenty to thirty years we will look back and be horrified that we imposed so many hours of sitting on our workers, just so that they can make a living.”

Leading international sedentary behaviour expert and be active 2014 keynote speaker Professor Stuart Biddle, Institute of Sport, Exercise & Active Living at Victoria University, called for a complete re-think of how we approach the challenge of sedentary behaviour.

“It’s no longer sufficient for public health and behaviour change initiatives to focus just on the small 6 – 7 per cent of each day that a minority of people spend undertaking moderate to vigorous physical activity,” Professor Biddle said.

“Instead we need to take action to address the 50 per cent of the day we currently spend being sedentary, and create a larger proportion of the day in at least light physical activity.

“We need to break these ‘habits’ by seeking to change our surroundings and making active behaviours easier to do. Small changes to the environment (e.g. fewer chairs or standing desks) can work well.

“Public health gains will be far greater if we focus on getting those who do little to do something rather than thinking the answer to active living lies with sport and high intensity exercise.”