Sitting at work might not kill you

Maybe sitting isn’t the new smoking. Or even the new soft drink.

A recent study pushes back on the increasingly popular theory that sitting for hours on end is a significant detriment to one’s health.

“Sitting time was not associated with all-cause mortality risk,” concludes a recent analysis of the WhiteHall II study, which examined the work practices, lifestyles and health of thousands of government workers in London beginning in 1985.

The most recent analysis, published online last week by the International Journal of Epidemiology, focused on the employees who, beginning in 1997, where asked about their sitting behavior at work. Were those who sat for longer periods of time more likely to have since died than those who reported shorter sitting periods?

Study participants were queried on their sitting habits in and out of the workplace. How many hours did they spend sitting during their commute to the office? How many hours did they spend watching TV?

The report found no evidence that more time on one’s posterior led to less overall time on earth.

But the study authors are far from claiming that there are no health problems posed by long-term sitting. But they suggest that putting the emphasis on avoiding sitting, rather than seeking out physical activity, could be misguided.

“Policy makers should be cautious in recommending a reduction in the time spent sitting without also promoting increased physical activity,” study co-author Melvyn Hillsdon, said in a news release announcing the report.

In fact, the report suggested that even if most of the London workers observed were prolific sitters, they were also prolific walkers, a fact that may have counteracted any negative effect from prolonged sitting at work or at home.

“The public transport infrastructure in London is such that London-based employees are far likelier to stand (on buses and trains) or walk during their commute to work than those residing in other areas of the country,” it said.

A recent study from the Journal of American Preventative Medicine found that employees who were given sit-stand desks averaged an hour more on their feet a day than employees at traditional desks. They also burned 87 more calories. But the study, which examined a relatively small group of workers over a short period of time, did not attempt to examine long-term health consequences of sitting.

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