A new way to think about sedentary behavior


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We haven’t heard the last of the study on the possible association between long bouts of television watching and a shorter lifespan. The paper, released last week in the journal Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Assn., found that every hour spent watching television was associated with an 18% greater risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, an 11% greater risk of all causes of death, and a 9% increased risk of death from cancer. The link between TV watching and death from cardiovascular disease existed not just among the overweight and obese, but also among people who exercised and were at at healthy weight.

The new data prompted Swedish exercise experts from Karolinska Institutet and the Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences to write an editorial published recently online in the British Journal of Sports Medicine about establishing a new way of thinking about sedentary behavior. They suggest abolishing ‘sedentary behavior’ as a synonym for not exercising. Instead, sedentary time should be defined as ‘muscular inactivity’ to distinguish it from not doing any exercise at all.


Their recommendation is based on four principles: just sitting and not moving throughout the day may in itself increase the risk of disease; sedentary behavior is a separate kind of behavior with its own effects on the risk of disease, and is different from leisure-time exercise; the molecular and physiological changes that occur from sitting too much are sometimes different from the body’s response to a period of physical activity; and those who are too inactive already will increase their health risks even more by sitting for long periods of time.

People should still be encouraged to get regular exercise, they add, but also to keep moving throughout the day. In the editorial they wrote, ‘Climbing stairs rather than using elevators and escalators, 5 minutes of break during sedentary work, or walking to the store rather than taking the car will be as important as exercise. In the demanding and stressful society of the present, to prescribe these low and minimally time-consuming efforts may encourage many people with problems in maintaining a sufficient level of exercise. Encouragingly, research has shown that simple forms of prescribing individualised physical activity in clinical practice has had a beneficial impact on exercise level as well as sedentary time.’

-- Jeannine Stein