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Sitting All Day? Here's What Inactivity Could Be Doing To Your Health.

Summertime usually brings with it sunny days and brighter evenings, meaning it’s easier to get out and about and get those steps in. Yet back to school and the end of summer holidays means its back to days sat at desks in school and the office. It was reported in 2018 that only 33% of Irish adults achieve sufficient levels of physical activity! This means that they are achieving 30 minutes of moderate- or greater-intensity physical activity at least five times a week. This is a pretty poor statistic. Physical activity benefits every aspect of our health including physical, mental and social well-being. Regular physical activity reduces your risk of chronic diseases, such as coronary heart disease (CHD), type 2 diabetes, stroke, cancer, osteoporosis and depression and even reduces the risk of falls and resulting injuries in older people.

Yet an individual who engages in the recommended 150 minutes of exercise every week can still spend the majority of their remaining waking hours in sedentary behaviour. Changes in human activity, globalization and technological changes have favoured a progressive switch from physically demanding tasks to knowledge-based work requiring screen-based work activities. In addition, more and more time is spent watching television, playing passive video games, using the computer, and using motorized transportation. It is reported that adults spend on average 7.7 hours each day of their waking time engaged in sedentary behaviours.

“Sitting is the new smoking”

Sedentary behaviour has received increasing attention as a public health issue because of its high prevalence and is associated with adverse health outcomes independent of physical activity levels.

Prolonged sedentary time is associated with:

  • Increased risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and mortality.

  • Poor glycaemic control including a reduction in insulin sensitivity and glucose uptake which can cause low energy levels, fatigue and sleepiness.

  • Low energy expenditure which may contribute to weight gain.

  • Less healthful diet, such as less fruit and vegetable intake and higher consumption of energy-dense snacks and sugar-sweetened drinks which may also contribute to weight gain.

  • Dysregulation of appetite through influence on the ‘hunger hormones’ – ghrelin and leptin – leading to increased hunger and decreased fullness which may promote excess energy intake leading to weight gain.

  • Back and hip problems, and poor posture.

  • Rise in stress levels and decreases in energy and productivity.

Research has demonstrated that 60 to 75 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity each day seems to offset the increased risks of mortality associated with sitting for more than 8 hours each day, yet this amount of physical activity is beyond the recommended levels. However there are some changes we can make to reduce our time spent sedentary as unfortunately for many it is unavoidable.

5 easy ways to become more active:

  • Sitting-standing desks – while effects of sitting and standing on metabolism (e.g., blood pressure, glucose, and lipid metabolism) and cardiovascular risk is almost the same, evidence suggests that breaking up sedentary time with standing may be sufficient to improve productivity, relieve lower back pain and increase movement. Sitting-standing desks have also been linked to an overall sense of well-being and energy, decreased fatigue, and reduction in appetite, food intake and lower self-perceived levels of hunger.

  • If possible, get out for a walk at lunchtime. Not only will this increase your levels of physical activity but is also beneficial for mental health. Research has shown that workers who undertake a 30 minute walk at lunchtime had increased enthusiasm, felt more relaxed, and were less nervous afterwards. Why not suggest a lunchtime running group with some colleagues?

  • Invest in an activity tracker – this will motivate you to get moving and you can set it so you have to reach a certain number of steps every hour. Research has demonstrated that vascular function is impaired after 6 hours spent sitting at a desk. However, taking a walk around the office for 10 minutes after a long period of sitting down can restore vascular health. You can increase movement by walking to your colleague’s desk instead of phoning or emailing, walking to the water cooler, using a bathroom that is upstairs or even in a different building if appropriate, volunteering for the tea/coffee run or just simply going for a 5-10 minute walk around the office.

  • Park in the car space furthest away from the entrance or get off the bus a stop earlier. Or even better, depending on the location of work, walk or cycle. Many employers in Ireland will offer The Cycle to Work Scheme which provides a bicycle for each employee for use cycling all or part of the journey to and from work.

  • Stretching – it doesn’t all have to be about movement, stretching can help to relieve pain and tension, reduce stress and increase productivity. Taking 5 minutes every couple of hours to do a few shoulder shrugs, necks, chest, upper back stretches and spinal twists can make all the difference.


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