Sit less and move more - but how?

Sit less and move more - but how?

Stuart Biddle is Professor of Active Living & Public Health in the Institute of Sport, Exercise & Active Living at Victoria University in Melbourne, Australia.

Over the past few years there has been a great deal of interest in what has been called ‘sedentary behaviour’. This refers to ‘too much sitting’ rather than ‘too little exercise’. Much research has been reported on this and has shown that those who sit for large portions of the day have a much worse health profile, including higher risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and even early death. Such findings are largely free of the influence of how much exercise we do. In other words, we might do our 30 minutes of exercise, as recommended, but for many they will then sit for the rest of the day. That’s not a good idea. Of course, the exercise will be beneficial, but large amounts of sitting are definitely bad for you.


So what happens if you sit less? First, the time allocated to sitting has to go somewhere. It can go to one of three things:

  1. the sitting could be replaced simply with standing. An example is when you create some form of standing desk in your office and work at your computer standing up (as I am doing now). You don’t need to stand all day – just break up sitting with bouts of standing or, better still, break up your standing with bouts of sitting!
  2. the sitting could be allocated to light physical activity, such as walking slowly or moving around the office or home. Having your waste bin on the other side of the room will create this kind of movement. It is not ‘exercise’, but it is moving.
  3. the sitting could be replaced by ‘exercise’ (moderate-to-vigorous physical activity). This is fine and, if the circumstances allow, definitely to be encouraged. However, it is unlikely that much of your sitting time will be reallocated in this way, hence it is more realistic to find ways of doing standing and other light activities. Here are some examples:

At home
Watch less TV and use the laptop less. Reallocate this time to light activities, such as house work, walking, playing with the children, or simply breaking up TV time with other things. Even substituting one seated activity with another might help break up long periods in front of the TV.


At work
buy or create a standing desk, stand for portions of meetings, have walking meetings, regularly get up and do another task (e.g. talk to a colleague instead of emailing).


use the car less; actively commute to work or use public transport. These will allow opportunities for more activity. Break up sitting on public transport. Park further away.



For more information on sedentary behaviour please see our evidence briefing