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Sitting ‘increases health risks’


Office staff should take a stand for health by refusing to sit down at meetings and moving their work station to the nearest filing cabinet, according to an expert. Professor Stuart Biddle spelled out his advice after research showed that lounging in a chair for too long can double the risk of diabetes, heart disease and death. The findings indicate that sitting is bad in itself, irrespective of other time spent exercising or playing sport.

Scientists analysed the results of 18 studies with a total of 794,577 participants and found a big difference in health outcomes between the most and least sedentary. Prof Biddle, from the University of Loughborough in the UK, who was one of the researchers, said: “Currently society forces us into too much sitting, sitting at school, sitting at office desks, sitting in cars and so on. There are many ways we can reduce our sitting time, such as breaking up long periods at the computer at work by placing our laptop on a filing cabinet. We can have standing meetings, we can walk during the lunch break, and we can look to reduce TV viewing in the evenings by seeking out less sedentary behaviours.”

Prof Biddle practices what he preaches. He has a reminder note on his white board at work that says: “First 15 minutes of a meeting standing up”. He added: “I get a few odd looks – sometimes people think you’re nuts or assume you have a bad back. But I’ve had quite a lot of positive feedback too. Standing up at a meeting makes you appear more animated and seems to make a good impression.”

He advocates the use of “standing desks” which can be raised or lowered and are mainly designed for people with back problems. “You can have a posh electrically operated version or a hand-cranked one, or you can create your own standing desk by putting your screen a little higher, for instance on top of a filing cabinet,” he said.

The study, published in Diabetologia, the journal of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes, analysed research data on people with different levels of sedentary behaviour.

Compared with the least sedentary, those who spent the most time sitting down had a 112% greater risk of diabetes. Similarly, the risk of cardiovascular events such as heart attacks or strokes was increased by 147% in the most sedentary, and death linked to heart disease by 90%.