Sitting down for too long linked to lower life expectancy, study finds

Sitting down could be lowering our life expectancy [Photo: Getty]
Sitting down could be lowering our life expectancy [Photo: Getty]

When it comes to living a longer life, we know the drill. Up the exercise, cut or quit the alcohol and smoking and eat more healthily. But new research has revealed thousands of premature deaths could be avoided if people spent less time sitting down.

According to research from Queen’s University Belfast and Ulster University, some 11.6% of deaths in the UK during 2016 were linked to prolonged sedentary behaviour.

The study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, found that around 69,276 deaths could have been prevented that year if this coach potato behaviour – officially defined as sitting for more than six hours a day – was cut out.

Researchers said 30% of adults in England spend at least six hours a day being sedentary on weekdays – rising to 37% at weekends.

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“Many individuals in the UK spend their leisure time in sedentary behaviour, and the workplace represents a significant proportion of unavoidable daily sitting time for many people,” study authors commented.

“Measures should be taken to reduce sedentary behaviour with the aim of improving population health and reducing the financial burden to the health service.”

The study collated data from a number of studies, which examined the links between long periods sitting, and the risks of common diseases.

Researchers estimated that the NHS spent around £0.7 billion in 2016–2017 treating diseases associated with prolonged sedentary behaviour such as cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, several types of cancer.

There is also some evidence that spending days on end sitting down could be linked to several other cancers, mental health disorders and musculoskeletal disorders, they added.

“It is hoped that these estimates will help policymakers prioritise resources to address a major public health issue,” study authors continued.

Commenting on the findings, Dr Gavin Sandercock, from the University of Essex, said: “Sitting less might save some lives and cost the NHS less but, because we have created a sitting-based economy, there are likely to be costs associated with interventions to reduce sitting time in the workplace.

“The ‘bang for your buck’ of reducing sitting time is pretty small in terms of health benefits – you actually have to reduce sitting time by several hours each day to see noticeable improvements in health.

“In contrast, getting people to be more physically active has much bigger effects.”

Time to get up off the sofa? [Photo: Getty]
Time to get up off the sofa? [Photo: Getty]

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Though this particular study doesn’t divulge whether going to the gym after spending hours at your desk can reduce the impact of sitting down all day, previous research has suggested that exercising at least 60 minutes a day can offset the negative effects of sitting too much throughout the day.

And a further study revealed just how much exercise people need to do to live to 90 and potentially counterbalance the effects of being so sedentary.

The study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, found that women who do physical activity for an hour a day have a much better chance of reaching the age of 90 than those who do under 30 minutes.

When it comes to men, those who do 90 minutes of physical activity a day are 39 per cent more likely to reach the age of 90 than those who do less than half an hour.

Getting off the sofa, or away from your desk, isn’t the only thing that could help us stick around for a little bit longer.

Back in 2017 a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine revealed that drinking three cups of coffee a day could help us live longer too.

Researchers from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and Imperial College London looked at data from more than 500,000 people in 10 European countries in order to look at the effect of coffee consumption upon the risk of death.

Turns out having a baby in your thirties could also impact how long we live with a recent study finding that women who have a baby in their fourth decade may outlive their younger mum counterparts.

And cutting down on the carbs could play a part in the length of your life span with research released last year revealing that those on a low carb diet may not live as long as their moderate carb eating peers.