A study published online by the International Journal of Epidemiology seems to upend some of the conventional wisdom on sitting disease research.
The study found no link between sitting and “all-cause mortality” (the likelihood of dying of any cause). Several earlier studies found a relationship independent of other physical activity between sitting and diseases like diabetes and cancer, as well as early death from any cause. This study looked only at the risk of early death in a group of urban office workers.
You can read the study yourself. It’s available free online: “Associations of sitting behaviours with all-cause mortality over a 16-year follow-up: the Whitehall II study.”
The study’s lead author, Richard Pulsford of the University of Exeter in the UK, says, “Our findings suggest that reducing sitting time might not be quite as important for mortality risk as previously publicized and that encouraging people to be more active should still be a public health priority.”
The study’s authors think that the relatively active lifestyle of the urban Londoners that the study measured may have protected them from their sedentary work days. Office workers who take a nice long walk to and from the subway and otherwise pursue an active urban lifestyle may show fewer effects of sitting disease than those who commute by car, for example.
Other studies have hinted at the protective benefits of physical activity outside of work for sedentary office workers. I’m intrigued to see what future research will reveal about the relative risks of sedentary behavior like sitting versus the risks of not exercising enough. It’s pretty clear from the research how much exercise we need to do to stay healthy. It’s not so clear yet how much less sitting we should be doing.
I doubt that this one study will dismantle the need for further research in the fields of sedentary studies and inactivity physiology, though you might think it already has from some of the headlines reporting on this study. The most egregious media over-reach in reaction to this study might be this Gizmodo headline: “Standing Desks Are Mostly Bullshit.”
Note to the reporters at Gizmodo: You don’t have to dig too deeply to discover that there are plenty of other good, scientifically sound reasons to use a standing desk. Give me a shout if you’d like details.