(Picture: JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images
(Picture: JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images

NHS guidelines may be challenged by new research which contests that sitting down for long periods increases the risk of early death.

A new study from the University of Exeter and University College London concludes that sitting is not associated with an increased risk of dying.

The study, published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, followed over 5,000 participants for 16 years - making it one of the longest follow-up studies in its field.

The participants provided information on five measures of activity: total sitting time, work sitting time, leisure sitting time, sitting time while watching TV, daily time spent walking and total exercise.

Age, gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, general health, smoking, alcohol consumption and diet were all taken into account.

The study showed that over the 16-year follow-up period none of the sitting measures influenced mortality risk.

The authors now encourage a focus on overall physical activity, rather than using sitting time as a barometer for health risks.

Dr Melvyn Hillsdon from the department of sport and health sciences at the University of Exeter said:

Our study overturns current thinking on the health risks of sitting and indicates that the problem lies in the absence of movement rather than the time spent sitting itself. Any stationary posture where energy expenditure is low may be detrimental to health, be it sitting or standing.

The results cast doubt on the benefits of sit-stand work stations, which employers are increasingly providing to promote healthy working environments.

Lead author Dr Richard Pulsford added:

Our findings suggest that reducing sitting time might not be quite as important for mortality risk as previously publicised and that encouraging people to be more active should still be a public health priority.

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