Thursday 19 July 2018

We must make a stand for the good of our long-term health

Dr Tully has a treadmill at his stand-up desk
Dr Tully has a treadmill at his stand-up desk

Dr Mark Tully

Many of us know all too well that smoking, drinking too much, eating the wrong foods and not taking exercise is a recipe for increased risk of a number of conditions.

Public health researchers have recently added a new behaviour that we should consider - sitting, or sedentary behaviour.

It might just be the 'icing on the cake', as it has been shown to be linked to other bad behaviours like snacking on unhealthy foods, and evidence continues to accumulate on the health consequences of prolonged sitting, such as increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and obesity.

On average people spend over nine hours, or up to 80pc of their waking day, sitting down. From childhood, we are encouraged to sit. Most evenings my long-suffering mother would try to get her four energetic children to sit down in our Co Cork home and eat our dinner and do our homework. We sit all day in school and work.

Most of us even sit for long periods to get to and from places of work or study. Then we come home and sit in front of the TV.

Not all sitting is bad. Hobbies like reading, crafts and coffee with friends bring lots of benefits in their own right. However, what if I told you that the prolonged sitting for hours on end increases our chance of death and disease, how would you respond? A recent study in Canada showed that adults who spent most of their time sitting were 50pc more likely to die during the follow-up period than those that sit the least. Public health scientists have recognised the need to develop interventions to address the high levels of inactivity across ages, with some regarding sitting as 'the new smoking'.

Researchers at Queen's University Belfast have been part of a successful bid for funds from the European Commission to develop and test an intervention to help older adults reduce the amount of time they spend sitting, and increase their physical activity. The intervention, called the 'Sitless Study' (, will be offered in Northern Ireland, Spain, Germany and Denmark.

Ahead of our findings, what could you do to make small lifestyle changes to break up your sitting? Some people find reminders on their mobile phone help. Others re-organise their sitting room or office so they have to get up to change channels on the TV or move about the office to get the stapler or use the printer.

For me, it was a desk in my office that allows me to stand as I write this article. So as you read, get up, stretch your legs, and enjoy the health benefits from taking a stand against the pervasiveness of 'sitting disease' in our society.

Dr Mark Tully is a lecturer in Physical Activity and Public Health at Queen's University Belfast

Irish Independent

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