Sedentary Behaviour and Physical Inactivity

November 10, 2015 admin

Sedentary Behaviour and Physical Inactivity

In light of the Australian Physiotherapy Association joining forces with MOvember foundation’s initiative of “MOVEmber” aiming to encourage people to move every day of November and gain the benefits of physical activity (specifically in relation to prostate cancer), today we will be looking at the current physical activity guidelines we should all be meeting to improve our health and quality of life –  and the small things we can do to try to meet them.


What is Physical Activity?


The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines physical activity as any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that requires energy expenditure – including activities undertaken while working, playing, carrying out household chores, and engaging in recreational pursuits.


Key facts


  •       Physical inactivity (low levels of physical activity) is the fourth leading cause of death due to non-communicable disease (NCDs) worldwide (heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancers) – contributing to over three million preventable deaths annually (6% of deaths globally).
  •       Physical inactivity is estimated to be the main cause for approximately 21–25% of breast and colon cancers, 27% of diabetes and approximately 30% of ischaemic heart disease burden.
  •       Physical inactivity is the second greatest contributor, behind tobacco smoking, to the cancer burden in Australia.
  •       Physical activity has significant health benefits and contributes to prevent NCDs.

Source: Global Health Risks: mortality ad burden of disease attributable to selected major risks. World Health Organization, 2009.


How much physical activity is recommended?


The Australian Government’s current guidelines for adults are:


  • Doing any physical activity is better than doing none. If you currently do no physical activity, start by doing some, and gradually build up to the recommended amount.
  • Accumulate 150 to 300 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous intensity physical activity, or an equivalent combination of both moderate and vigorous activities, each week.
  •       Be active on most, preferably all, days every week.
  •       Do muscle strengthening activities on at least two days each week.
  •       Minimise the amount of time spent in prolonged sitting. Break up long periods of sitting as often as possible.
  •       Those over 65 or with poor mobility should perform physical activity to enhance balance and prevent falls, 3 or more days per week

The intensity of different forms of physical activity varies between people. In order to be beneficial for cardiorespiratory health, all activity should be performed in bouts of at least 10 minutes duration.



Benefits of physical activity


improve muscular and cardiorespiratory fitness;

improve bone and functional health;

reduce the risk of hypertension, coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, breast and colon cancer and depression;

reduce the risk of falls as well as hip or vertebral fractures; and

fundamental to energy balance and weight control.

However, current research is showing that even if you do meet the physical activity guidelines – if you are sedentary you will still have risks to your health…


What is ‘sedentary behaviour’?



Being ‘sedentary’ means sitting or lying down for long periods (not including sleeping). So, a person can do enough physical activity to meet the guidelines and still be considered sedentary if they spend a large amount of their day sitting or lying down at work, at home, for study, for travb2ap3_thumbnail_Homerel or during their leisure time. This can have impacts on health such as an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

Experts say we’re sedentary on average for 7-10 hours a day. While researchers are still trying to understand exactly why sedentary behaviour has such a negative effect on our health, it appears to be related to how our bodies process fats and sugars.Professor Wendy Brown from the University of Queensland’s School of Human Movement Studies in an interview with ABC news explained that when muscles are not moving, metabolites – especially fats – are not cleared from the bloodstream as quickly. High circulating levels of fats eventually lead to metabolic illnesses like diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The latest evidence is that the effects worsen when daily sitting time is more than seven hours.


So what can we do about it?


In essence, the guidelines recommend that if we can break up sitting with two minutes of standing/walking at least every twenty minutes this will significantly reduce our sedentary time and improve our health, productivity and energy levels. If we can limit our screen time at home in front of the computer and TV to less than 2 hours a day this will also greatly benefit us – and this also goes for adolescents and children. Standing desks and alternating sit to stand desks are becoming increasingly popular for people who are at their desks for majority of the day, this is another effective way to reduce sedentary time.

Please find below some great tips and advice to try to limit sedentary behaviour and physical inactivity at home and at work; just remember – any activity is better than no activity so get out there and start moving.




 Clicking on the age groups below find out the Australian Physical Activity and Sedentry Behaviour Guidlines.


Adults 18-64 years old 


Youth 13-17 years old


Children 5-12 years old


Also, a national campaign “This Girl Can” by Sports England resulted in an amazing and inspirational video to encourage women to get off the couch and start exercising – to watch one of my favourite videos of all time see the video below!