In fact, sitting is no worse than standing for a person who doesn't otherwise move his or her body, the University of Exeter and University College London researchers found.
Researchers tracked 16 years' worth of health data from 5,132 people in the Whitehall II study cohort. Participants reported their total time sitting and how long they sat during four different situations: at work, watching television, leisure time and non-television leisure time. Researchers also tracked time spent walking daily and on physical activity.
After controlling for a number of factors, including diet and general health, researchers found the overall mortality risk for these participants wasn't influenced by how long they sat or by the kind of sitting. And the researchers cautioned that too much emphasis on not sitting shouldn't take the place of promoting physical activity.
"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," study author Melvyn Hillsdon of the University of Exeter said in a statement. "Any stationary posture where energy expenditure is low may be detrimental to health, be it sitting or standing."
These researchers concede that their particular participant pool consisted of mostly white collar workers in London, where commuting is a more physically active process than it is for country dwellers. And they write they couldn't comment on the association between sitting and specific diseases.
Previous research has pointed to the dangers of being too sedentary. An expert statement released in the British Journal of Sports Medicine this year recommended Americans stand, move and take breaks for two hours out of an eight-hour work day.
And a 2010 study in the American Journal of Epidemiology tracked 123,000 adults over 14 years and found that people who sat more than six hours daily had an 18 percent higher mortality rate than those sitting less than three hours.
So are standing desks a solution? Not necessarily, the authors of this new study insist.
"The results of this study suggest that policy makers should be cautious about recommending sitting reductions without also recommending increases in physical activity," they write.
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