The U. S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey indicates Americans spend too much time being sedentary.
Sedentary is a term that refers to behavior during the waking hours that has a low level of energy expenditure.
It includes behaviors such as lying and sitting that typically have an energy expenditure of 1.5 METs or less (including TV watching and other screen time).
The survey indicates that American children and adults spend almost eight hours a day being sedentary. This amounts to more than half of waking time for most people.
A separate report, the National Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans report (2018), indicates that there is a “strong relationship between time in sedentary behavior and risk of death from all causes.”
It also said and that sedentary living increases risk of heart disease, diabetes, and some forms of cancer.
At this point, the scientific evidence is not sufficient to make a specific recommendation concerning limits on sedentary behavior.
However, researchers have been able to determine that reducing sedentary behavior and increasing physical activity is good for your health.
The diagram with this column is useful in understanding how avoiding sedentary behavior and participating in MVPA can reduce the risk of disease and early death.
In the diagram, red indicates high risk and green represents low risk. A high amount of sedentary behavior and low amounts of MVPA creates the greatest risk (red area in the upper left with sitting figure).
The lowest risk is for people who limit sitting and engage in adequate MVPA (lower right walking figure in green).
Reducing sedentary behavior is good, but without being regularly active it does not provide optimal risk reduction. Being active is also good, but even active people have increased risk if they sit too much.
The information conveyed in the diagram has significant implications for youth and for adults.
For youth, being in school poses a public health threat because most of the time in school involves sitting.
Comprehensive school physical activity programs that include quality physical education, physical activity before and after school, and physical activity during the school day (e.g., exercise breaks, recess) can enhance student fitness, health, and wellness by reducing sedentary behaviors and increasing MVPA.
Physical education helps to get students active during the typically sedentary school day but has added benefits as well.
Quality physical education programs provide students with information and self-management skills that help them to be active out-of-school during the school years and beyond.
For adults, the workplace fosters sitting and typically limits activity time.
Taking activity breaks, walking while talking on the phone, and using a standing desk are examples of what adults can do to limit sitting. When sitting can’t be avoided, the need for a minimum of 30 minutes of MVPA per day during non-work hours becomes paramount.
More is even better!
Chuck Corbin is a long time Ahwatukee resident and senior author of “Fitness for Life and Concepts of Fitness and Wellness.”