Want to Lower Your Life Expectancy? Just Take a Seat

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It’s no secret that couch potatoes are not likely to be the fittest members of society. But even if you exercise, it seems that sitting for long periods of time are linked to adverse health outcomes.

A study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine by researchers from the University of Sao Paulo School of Medicine, Sao Paulo, Brazil, report that prolonged sitting was an independent risk factor for decreased life expectancy – irrespective of moderate to vigorous daily exercise.

The research project included an analysis of adult surveys from 54 countries around the world to determine the proportion of all-cause mortality attributable to sitting time and potential gains in life expectancy, if sitting time were reduced. What researchers found was that sitting time of greater than three hours per day was responsible for 433,000 deaths and contributed to 3.8 percent of all-cause mortality.

Based on their calculations, eliminating sitting time increased life expectancy by 0.23 years among the 54 countries.

Additionally, the authors report that by reducing the average sitting time by 10 percent, or a 30-minute absolute decrease in sitting time, could have an instant impact on all-cause mortality. And the more aggressive the change, such as a 50 percent reduction in sitting time or two-hour decrease, would “represent three times fewer deaths.”

It is unlikely that people can achieve the daily recommended goal of physical activity, but replacing the time spent sitting with light-intensity physical activity is a more realistic and more attainable goal for most lifestyles around the globe. The overall findings, according to the paper, support the importance of promoting active lifestyles as a critical vehicle to prevent premature deaths globally.

Some limiting features of this study were that calculations were used broadly from one population to another, without their being necessarily portable. Also, survey data from certain parts of the globe such as in African nations were not readily available. Therefore, data had to be extrapolated which may not reflect the actual scenarios. Another limitation of this study is that their results are based on survey data which are inherently problematic to begin with.

However, all things considered, the bigger picture is that by encouraging simple changes to daily routines that are achievable and sustainable will likely carry a greater, long-term impact. By encouraging modest changes, such as reducing sitting time and replacing it with light activities, can result in more profound reductions in premature deaths.