Sedentary Behaviour – What “sit” all about?

There has been a lot in the news lately about sedentary behaviour and the effect this can have on our health.

Jenny Ackland, one of Age Scotland’s Allied Health Professionals, talks us through the research and why, even with a background in health, she was surprised by just how much of an impact sedentary behaviour can have on our physical and mental wellbeing.

So what is sedentary behaviour?

Sedentary behaviour describes periods of time where you’re not very physically active, this could include watching TV, sitting reading a book or sitting working at a computer.


What the evidence shows:

The research to date shows specific differences in the way sedentary behaviour can impact on our metabolism, physiology, health and wellbeing. It is now recognised that long periods of prolonged sitting is an independent risk factor for poor health outcomes.

The British Heart Foundation National Centre evidence briefing on sedentary behaviour highlights the following:

  • The adverse effects of sedentary behaviours apply even if you meet the physical activity guidelines
  • Public health guidance indicates that prolonged periods of sitting should be avoided
  • Sedentary behaviours have a negative impact on mental wellbeing
  • Sedentary behaviours are associated with increased risk of Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease
  • Sedentary behaviours are associated with lower femoral bone mineral density in post-menopausal women
  • Physical inactivity is the fourth leading cause of death worldwide
  • Patterns and behaviours established in childhood persist with age
  • Sedentary behaviours are more prevalent and sustained in older people

The point about meeting the physical activity guidelines is key. We’re all used to hearing that we should be doing 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day, but the research tells us that even if you went for a 30 minute run, if you then sit on the sofa for the rest of the day, you are just as susceptible to the adverse effects!

What’s clear is that more research is needed to identify simple, effective ways people can reduce their sedentary time, and Age Scotland is involved in a major new study aiming to do just that.

The Seniors Understanding Sedentary Patterns Study

This three year study is being led by a team of high profile researchers from a number of universities, including Glasgow Caledonian University. It is funded by the Medical Research Council.

They plan to recruit 750 people from two major long-term Scottish studies from which they already have some clinical measurements and data. This data will be reviewed against new objective measurements on their current activity patterns. The researchers will also interview some participants to capture their views about sedentary behaviour and identify what might encourage people to become more active. Using this information, the aim is to design an intervention that will help to reduce sedentary behaviours.

Age Scotland is part of the Dissemination Advisory Group and we’ll be helping to share information about its work. We will also be raising awareness of the health risks associated with sedentary behaviours, not only with older people but with our own teams at work which has started already in our Edinburgh office!

What can we do at work to reduce sedentary behaviour?

The first step is just to take notice of the amount of sitting that you do in a working day and think about how you can be more active. Have a bit of fun with your team suggesting ways to reduce the amount of sitting you do and what would work for everyone.

Why not make a point of standing up when you answer the phone or have standing or walking meetings? The more active you are the better, but even just standing up for a few minutes in each hour can make a difference.

I would love to hear your ideas and suggestions to reduce the amount of sitting that we all do, so drop me an email at:

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