Prolonged Sitting is Expanding Among Adults

23 May, 2019 Nancy Grover


Sarasota, FL ( - Despite warnings that ‘sitting is the new smoking,’ adults are more sedentary than ever. New research shows the average time spent sitting has increased by nearly an hour each day.

Extended periods of sitting have been linked to a variety of chronic conditions and other physical ailments, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, increased risk of obesity and overall mortality. Since such comorbidities have been associated with increased risk of workplace injuries and illnesses — along with slower recovery times, workers’ compensation stakeholders are advised to adopt strategies to get workers moving more.

The Latest Stats

“We know that there are a lot of people who spend much of the day sitting (if you are reading this, you may be one of them),” wrote Erin Peterson, a research associate at the Integrated Benefits Institute, in a recent blogpost. “But researchers have seen an increasing trend in people spending their free time sitting—and especially spending time on the computer outside of work.”

Peterson cited findings from a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association that looked at the estimated prevalence of sitting. Of the nearly 52,000 people included in the cross-sectional analysis of data from the National health and Nutrition Examination Survey, were 31,989 adults.

“In this nationally representative survey of the U.S. population from 2001 through 2016, the estimated prevalence of sitting watching television or videos for at least 2 hours per day generally remained high and stable,” the authors wrote. “The estimated prevalence of computer use during leisure-time increased among all age groups, and the estimated total sitting time increased among adolescents and adults.”

Specifically, the estimated prevalence of computer use outside of work for at least 1 hour per day increased from 29 percent to 50 percent. Total sitting time increased from 5.5 to 6.4 hours per day, between 2007 and 2016.

To break it down further, the researchers said in the 2015 to 2016 time period, “a substantial proportion of the population spent at least 2 hours a day sitting watching television or videos. Among adults aged 20 to 64 years, the estimated prevalence was 62 percent … and among those 65 years or older, 84 percent with a large proportion spending 2 to 3 hours per day.”

The Need to Move

According to the Health and Human Services’ second edition of Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, adults should engage in 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous aerobic activity each week with muscle strengthening activities on two days during the week, to stay healthy. However, the report, released in November, also said adherence to the guidelines is low, with just 26 percent of men, 19 percent of women, and 20 percent of adolescents meeting the recommendations.

“The new guidelines demonstrate that, based on the best science, everyone can dramatically improve their health just by moving – anytime, anywhere, and by any means that gets you active,” said Adm. Brett P. Giroir, M.D., assistant secretary for health. “That’s why we need to come together as a nation to get Americans moving. When we move more, we have better cardiovascular health, we are stronger and less susceptible to disease, and we feel better.”

A single bout of activity has “numerous” benefits, such as reduced anxiety and blood pressure, better quality of sleep and improved insulin sensitivity, the HHS report said. Longer term benefits include improved brain health, reduced risk of eight types of cancer, reduced risk for fall-related injuries in older adults, and reduced risk of excessive weight gain. Physical activity also helps reduce pain from osteoarthritis, lower disease progression for hypertension and type 2 diabetes, and decrease symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Advice for Employers

“The good news for employers is that they have some control over how much workers sit or move on the job,” wrote the IBI’s Peterson. “The CDC provides several workplace strategies that can help improve physical activity and reduce sedentary time for employees. These can include physical activity breaks, walking meetings, sit-stand desks and encouragement to take stairs.”

Additional strategies recommended by the CDC include:

  • Flexible times for starting and ending the work day. “Policies can be useful in creating opportunities for employees to engage in physical activity during the day yet maintain their expected number of work hours. Flextime policies allow employees to shift their work schedules, such as coming in earlier or later or taking a lunch break at alternate times.”
  • Partnering with local fitness facilities. “Implementing an incentive where memberships are provided to local fitness facilities and physical activity programs and membership fees are reduced or subsidized can increase access and reduce barriers such as cost for employees.”

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    About The Author

    • Nancy Grover

      Nancy Grover is a freelance writer having recently retired as the Director, Media Services for She comes to our company with more than 35 years as a broadcast journalist and communications consultant. Grover’s specialties include insurance, workers’ compensation, financial services, substance abuse, healthcare and disability. For 12 years she served as the Program Chair of the National Workers’ Compensation and Disability Conference® & Expo. A journalism/speech graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University, Grover also holds an MBA from Palm Beach Atlantic University.

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