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April 17, 2021 3 min read

Sedentary behaviors have been adversely linked to various health outcomes and chronic diseases, including obesity, heart disease, and diabetes, as well as premature death. It’s becoming a global health issue that has raised questions regarding the exact description by which it is detrimental to health and being tagged as the new smoking. In this blog, we take a look at this risk behavior to provide insights into some of the determinants of sedentary behaviors and explain the link between sedentary behavior and risk of adverse conditions, as well as introduce strategies for decreasing sedentariness to demonstrate that too much sitting is a modifiable health risk behavior.

What is Sedentary?... Too Much Sitting While Doing Nothing!!!

The term sedentary behavior comes from the Latin word sedere, meaning “to sit,” and is typically defined by using energy expenditure or by METs  (Metabolic Equivalent Tasks). It is described as sitting or lying with low levels of energy expenditure or behavior where energy expenditure is below 2 METs or between 1 MET and 1.8 METs. However, using this description doesn’t apply to sitting alone. Studies have shown that standing expends energy almost similar to sitting but doesn’t cause any adverse effect of sedentary behavior. The Sedentary Behavior Research Network (SBRN) defines sedentary behavior as “any waking behavior characterized by an energy expenditure ≤ 1.5 METs, while in a sitting, reclining or lying posture,” or simply put, sitting without doing any physical activity. Uninterrupted TV viewing, prolonged computer use, or sitting in an automobile typically consume energy between 1.0 to 1.5 METs, and therefore, considered sedentary behaviors as these involve sitting at low levels of energy expenditure.

On TV Viewing and Occupational Sitting—It’s How You Spend Your Time Sitting!

A piece of strong evidence associating increased risk for cardiovascular diseases and prolonged TV viewing, both total sitting time and screen time, has been demonstrated. Also, psychologically, TV viewing has been linked to poor executive performance. On the contrary, the evidence is weak for detrimental effects with occupational sitting in a workplace environment. Cognitively demanding activities, such as sitting while reading, actively using a computer, and doing bulks of paperwork, are associated with better executive performances such as working memory, mental flexibility, and visual‑spatial memory. From these facts alone, simply sitting doesn’t put you at risk for adverse conditions. The level of physical activity while sitting should also be considered.

Deleterious Effect of Sitting

Many pieces of research have demonstrated that prolonged  periods of sitting can lead to several detrimental health effects at both the physiological .and psychological levels, such as the increased risk for:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Some form of cancers
  • Musculoskeletal disorders
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Cognitive decline
  • Shortened life expectancy

Simple Tips to Avoid Sedentariness While TV Viewing: Physical Activity Recommendations

In order to combat the detrimental effects of a sedentary lifestyle, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends that adults be engaged in a weekly aerobic exercise that requires at least 3 METs—specifically, at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic training (3 to 6 METs) or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity (more than 6 METs)—in bouts of 10 minutes or more. Physical activities such as daily 30-minute brisk walks for 5 days a week, or high-intensity strength training through jogging and running for 3 days a week, can meet these prescriptive measures.

These recommendations may spoil your nightly TV viewing habits, but there are so many things that you can do to at least combat and minimize, if not prevent, the effects of too much sitting while watching TV:

  • Use the Commercial Breaks -Simply watching your favorite TV show doesn’t have to be a prolonged sedentary activity. You can make use of the commercial breaks to stand and move around. You can even turn commercial breaks into workout breaks by having a few push-ups or crunches.
  • Pause the Movie –If you’re having a movie night with your friends and family, you may want to pause the movie to have some sort of a discussion or commentary about a scene while having the time to stretch out or refill your bowl of popcorn. You can also spend this time to making some phone calls but make sure to stand and walk when you do so.
  • Do Some Chores –TV watching can also be productive when you multitask. You can fold your laundry, do some school projects with your kids, or even do your child’s hair.

Reducing your screen time, whether it be television, computer, or phone, will help reduce the amount of time you'll be sedentary the whole day. This doesn’t only prevent you from having a digital or computer eye strain but also avoids the harmful effects of sedentariness.