More links between sitting time and chronic disease: new research from Australia

We’re hearing more and more about the negative impact on our health of sitting down too much of the time and here comes another bit of evidence which suggests that, though it’s not the type of study that can tell us about causes, only associations. It’s part of a big cross-sectional study in New South Wales, Australia, The 45 and Up Study, which is following over 267,000 people to look at aspects of healthy aging. Information taken at the start of the study from a sample of just over 63,000 men aged 45-64 was analysed. The men gave information on any chronic diseasees they had (such as high blood pressure, heart disease and cancer), how much time they spent sitting and the physical activity they did. Here’s what the researchers found when they looked at this data and made statistical adjustments for factors such as age and physical activity:

  • Men reporting sitting for more than 4 hours a day were significantly more likely to report ever having had a chronic disease than those sitting for less than 4 hours a day
  • Those sitting for 6 to 8 hours a day were significantly more likely to report ever having diabetes than those sitting for less than 4 hours a day, and those reporting sitting more than 8 hours a day were even more likely to report having diabetes

The authors concluded:

Our findings suggest that higher volumes of sitting time are significantly associated with diabetes and overall chronic disease, independent of physical activity and other potentially confounding factors.

They also point out some limitations of this type of study, not least that it can’t tell us whether sitting more contributed to people developing chronic disease or if the presence of disease caused people to sit more. It must also be born in mind that people can be inaccurate in the information they give, and this study relied on what people told the reseachers about health conditions, how much physical activity they’d done in the past week and how much time they spent sitting.

But it adds to a growing body of research which has found that sedentary time (sitting or lying down and using little energy) is associated with higher risk of death from cardiovascular disease and also overall, and of having diabetes or metabolic syndrome, regardless of the amout of leisure time physical activity a person does.

I wonder if any of you have swapped your office chair for the increasingly popular standing desk or workstation? I might just have to consider some serious modifications to my toadstool.


George ES, Rosenkranz RR, Kolt GS. Chronic disease and sitting time in middle-aged Australian males: findings from the 45 and Up Study. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2013, 10:20 doi:10.1186/1479-5868-10-20