Reduce sitting down time to cut UK deaths, researchers say

Thousands of UK deaths could be avoided every year if people reduce the amount of time spent sitting down, new research suggests.

More than one in 10 (11.6%) deaths in the country were linked to prolonged sedentary behaviour in 2016, according to analysis published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

The researchers, from Queen’s University Belfast and Ulster University, said cutting time spent sitting or lounging around could also lessen the financial burden on the NHS.

Six hours is classed as prolonged sedentary behaviour
Prolonged sedentary behaviour is defined as more than six hours per day spent sitting down (PA)

“Many individuals in the UK spend their leisure time in sedentary behaviour, and the workplace represents a significant proportion of unavoidable daily sitting time for many people,” the authors wrote.

“Measures should be taken to reduce sedentary behaviour with the aim of improving population health and reducing the financial burden to the health service.”

A total of 69,276 deaths could have been avoided in 2016 if prolonged sedentary behaviour – defined as more than six hours per day spent sitting down – was eliminated completely, the study suggests.

The researchers estimate that the NHS spends around £700 million treating diseases associated with prolonged sedentary behaviour, including cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, colon cancer, lung cancer and endometrial cancer.

They said the total costs are likely to be a “conservative estimate of the true burden”, with limited evidence also linking sedentary behaviour to several other cancers, mental health disorders and musculoskeletal disorders.

Commenting on the findings, Dr Gavin Sandercock, from the University of Essex, said: “Sitting less might save some lives and cost the NHS less but, because we have created a sitting-based economy, there are likely to be costs associated with interventions to reduce sitting time in the workplace.

“The ‘bang for your buck’ of reducing sitting time is pretty small in terms of health benefits – you actually have to reduce sitting time by several hours each day to see noticeable improvements in health.

“In contrast, getting people to be more physically active has much bigger effects.”

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