We’re Still Sitting Way Too Much, New Study Says

Do you know how much time you’ve spent sitting today? You might want to start counting.

A new study on sedentary trends examined a wide representation of people in the United States to learn more about how much they’ve been sitting over the past several years. And the results weren’t promising. In addition to the study’s findings, here are some solid reasons for able-bodied people to avoid a sedentary lifestyle — as well as some tips to get more exercise into your life.

The risks of a sedentary lifestyle

man sitting at desk holding pain in his neckCredit: PeopleImages/Getty Images

Health experts long have warned about the damage people can do when they sit too much. Here are some common risks of a sedentary lifestyle.

  • Your muscles weaken. Sitting can result in muscle stiffness and ultimately weakness, especially in the lower body. “Constant sitting weakens the gluteus medius, one of the three primary muscles in the buttock,” according to Cleveland Clinic. “It also tightens the hip flexors.”
  • It’s a pain in the neck (and back). Good posture is critical when you sit to prevent pain and degeneration in your spine. “Sitting for prolonged periods of time can be a major cause of back pain, cause increased stress of the back, neck, arms and legs and can add a tremendous amount of pressure to the back muscles and spinal discs,” according to the UCLA Spine Center.
  • Your risk for disease skyrockets. Research has linked a sedentary lifestyle to an increased risk of many diseases. One study found sedentary time is associated with a higher risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Plus, it’s also been connected to obesity, certain cancers, blood clots and more. And ultimately, a sedentary lifestyle might shorten your life.

Despite this information, people still continue to sit — a lot. Here are some key findings from the new study on sedentary trends.

Study analyzes sedentary behavior trends

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The sedentary trends study — led by researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis — used survey data from more than 51,000 people between 2001 and 2016. It aimed to identify the levels of and any changes in sedentary behavior to better address this health issue.

“Unlike other studies that have looked at sedentary behaviors, the research is the first to document sitting in a nationally representative sample of the U.S. population across multiple age groups — from children to the elderly — and different racial and ethnic groups,” according to a news release.

The researchers found between 2007 and 2016 (the time period for which this specific activity was measured), sedentary time increased from 7 hours per day to 8.2 hours for adolescents and from 5.5 hours per day to 6.4 hours for adults. The survey did not measure this rate for children.

Participants also were asked about their sedentary habits — including how many hours they sat and watched television or videos, as well as how much time they used a computer outside of work or school.

The researchers learned the majority of all age groups sat and watched television or videos for at least two hours per day. Among children age 5 to 11, 62 percent watched two or more hours of TV, and 59 percent of adolescents age 12 to 19 did the same. For adults age 20 to 64, 62 percent watched at least two hours of TV, as did 84 percent of adults age 65 and older.

Furthermore, many people fell into even higher sedentary TV-viewing categories.

“Across all age groups, 28 percent to 38 percent of those surveyed spent at least three hours per day watching television or videos, and 13 percent to 23 percent spent four hours or more engaged in watching television or videos,” according to the news release on the study. “Importantly, males of all age groups, non-Hispanic black individuals of all age groups and participants who reported being obese or physically inactive were more likely to spend more time sitting to watch televisions or videos compared to their counterparts.”

A bit of good news is the percentage of sedentary children watching TV slightly decreased between 2001 and 2016, the time period for which this activity was measured. The rate was stable among adolescents and adults age 20 to 64. But it increased slightly for adults age 65 and older.

As for computer use for an hour or more per day outside of work or school, the prevalence increased for all age groups. Between 2001 and 2016, the rate of children using computers during leisure time increased from 43 percent to 56 percent. And for adolescents, it went from 53 percent to 57 percent between 2003 and 2016. During that same time period, the rate for adults went up from 29 percent to 50 percent.

And just like with TV viewing, many people fell into a much higher category for computer use. “Up to a quarter of the U.S. population used computers outside of work and school for three hours or more,” according to the news release.

In a nutshell, the researchers found hardly any of these rates were trending in the right direction to promote better health — in spite of frequent warnings from experts to sit less. Still, it was important to get precise information on how different groups within the population spend their sedentary time to more effectively combat the problem.

“Our environments — the way our cities, our school days and working days are designed — play roles in this behavior that are difficult to change,” the study’s senior author Yin Cao said in the news release. “But at least now, we have a baseline from which to measure whether specific changes are having an impact.”

How to cut your sedentary time

colleagues walking down stairsCredit: PeopleImages/Getty Images

Our environments and lifestyles, as well as physical abilities, are huge factors in how much time we spend seated every day. But that still doesn’t change the fact that if you’re able to cut your sedentary time, you should.

Here are some tips from Harvard Medical School to help you get moving.

  • Get up and move every 30 minutes. Set an alarm if it helps to remind you. And don’t just stand in place. Get some movement in the form of a short walk or quick chore before you return to your seated activity.
  • Pace while you’re on the phone. Use your calls as a walk-and-talk session if possible.
  • Embrace TV commercials. Television has a built-in alarm to remind you to move: commercial breaks. (If you’re watching something without commercials, remember your pause button.) Get up, stretch, grab some water or even do a few quick exercises or chores. Then, you won’t have to feel guilty about watching so much TV.
  • Maximize your steps. It’s tried-and-true advice: Park far away, so you have to walk more to your destination. Take the stairs. Get up and talk to a colleague instead of emailing. And for extra motivation, try using a pedometer to keep track of your daily steps.

A lifestyle change probably won’t happen overnight. But if you start to keep track of how much you sit each day, it might just inspire you to get moving.

Main image credit: PeopleImages/Getty Images

42 comments

Ganaisha Calvin
Ganaisha Calvin9 days ago

will definitely change the way i see tv commercials

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heather g
heather g15 days ago

I'm sitting in front of my PC mainly into the early hours of the morning. I don't stretch enough and there are too many dangerous animals hanging around at that time. With that, I changed my habits!!

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Sarah A
Sarah A16 days ago

thanks for posting

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Lesa D
Lesa DiIorio16 days ago

thank you Mary...

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Renata B
Renata B16 days ago

"Park far away": LOL we don't even have a car and when we go shopping we do get back by bus but we walk there and it's more than two km. Not sure, probably more than tat. At least 2+km.

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David C
David C16 days ago

do your best

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David C
David C16 days ago

thanks

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Mike R
Mike R16 days ago

Thanks

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Shae Lee
Shae Lee17 days ago

Thank you for sharing!

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Sherry Kohn
Sherry Kohn17 days ago

Noted

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