How much sitting time each day is too much?
All about the Active Couch Potato
The term “active couch potato” may sound a little contradictory, but it is possible to be active and a couch potato at the same time!
So if you are physically active, you could still be considered sedentary,
putting you at risk of developing health problems.
So what is the difference between sedentary behaviour and physical inactivity?
Sedentary behaviour is any activity that involves sitting or lying down (with the exception of sleeping). Some examples of sedentary behaviour are;
• Sitting while driving, traveling or commuting
• Lying or sitting down to watch TV or play video games
• Sitting or lying down to read, write, study or use a mobile phone
• Stuck mostly sitting at work
Physical Inactivity means not meeting the physical activity guidelines of accumulating 150 to 300 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity or
75 to 150 minutes of vigorous intensity physical activity, per week (1).
Because there is a difference between someone who is sedentary and someone who is physically inactive, this means someone can do enough activity to meet the guidelines and still be considered sedentary if they spend a large amount of their day lying down or sitting.
This person is an active couch potato.
An example of an active couch potato would be someone who cycles to and from work or hits the gym regularly, but then sits all day at a desk and spends several hours watching TV or gaming in the evening (2).
Recent research suggests that sedentary behaviour and physical inactivity are two separate risk factors for chronic disease (3,4). Excessive periods of sedentary behaviour can be detrimental to one’s health, independent of achieving the recommended amounts of physical activity (3,4). And with Australians spending more time sitting than sleeping, it’s a growing concern. We spend almost 10 hours per day sitting (5).
More about the problem of too much sitting time
Sedentary behaviour is associated with poorer health outcomes, including an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and obesity (4,6,7). Advances in technology, the structure of modern life and an increase in non-manual jobs (6) can make it difficult to avoid sitting.
Early research has shown you will benefit from minimising sitting time each day, and also from breaking up periods of time spent being sedentary, as often as possible (6).
If avoiding sitting is difficult, here are some tips on how you can break up sitting time:
• Take regular breaks from your computer. Set a reminder for every 30 mins
to get up and move
• Alternate between sitting and standing tasks throughout your day
• Try to use the stairs instead of the lift
• Instead of emailing or calling your colleague, go talk to them
• Go for a walk on your lunch break
• Take the opportunity during meetings, to stand at the back of the room
• Drink more water, this will make you need to get up and use the toilet more frequently
• Stand when you’re on the phone
• Move your bin away from your desk, this way you will have to get up to use it
Does this mean that if you spend most of your day sitting at work, that it’s pointless to exercise regularly?
Of course not! Regular exercise has been shown to reduce diseases including, but not limited to, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and obesity.
So it is important to continue with your current exercise regime, it’s just important to also limit sedentary behaviour.
Written by Courtney Wharton, Accredited Exercise Physiologist at our Payneham, Mount Barker and International Spine Centre clinics. Courtney has extensive experience and skills in helping people become more physically active again. Courtney can help people better manage their diabetes, arthritis, cardiac rehab and mental health using her exercise prescription skills.
1. The Department of Health [Internet]. Department of Health. Sedentary Behaviour; [cited 2019 April 28]. Available from: http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/sbehaviour
2. Owen N, Healy GN, Howard B, Dunstan DW. Too much sitting: health risks of sedentary behaviour and opportunities for change. Res Digest. 2012;13(3):2-11.
3. Thivel D, Tremblay A, Genin PM, Panahi S, Rivière D, Duclos M. Physical Activity, Inactivity, and Sedentary Behaviors: Definitions and Implications in Occupational Health. Frontiers in Public Health. 2018;6(288).
4. Ribeiro AS, Pereira LC, Silva DR, Santos LD, Schoenfeld BJ, Teixeira DC, Cyrino ES, Guedes DP. Physical Activity and Sitting Time Are Specifically Associated With Multiple Chronic Diseases and Medicine Intake in Brazilian Older Adults. Journal of aging and physical activity. 2018 Oct 1;26(4):608-13.
5. Tanamas SK. The Australian diabetes, obesity and lifestyle study.
6. Stamatakis E, Hamer M. Sedentary behaviour: redefining its meaning and links to chronic disease. British Journal of Hospital Medicine. 2011 Apr;72(4):192-5.
7. González K, Fuentes J, Márquez JL. Physical inactivity, sedentary behavior and chronic diseases. Korean journal of family medicine. 2017 May;38(3):111.