Most middle-aged office staff now spend as much time sitting down as pensioners, research has suggested, and in the process are putting themselves at greater risk of type 2 diabetes, cancer and early death.
The research by the University of Edinburgh analysed data from 14,000 people in Scotland and was published in The Journal of Sports Sciences in June. It has overturned previous studies that suggested older adults are the most sedentary age group in the UK.
The study defined sedentary as time spent in waking hours sitting or reclined, including working, eating, reading, watching TV, or spending time on a computer.
High levels of sedentary time – more than seven hours a day – increase the risk of an early death, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers, even if people are physically active at other times of the day.
The study found that 45- to 54-year-old men spent, on average, 7.8 hours per weekday sitting down, compared with 7.4 hours for the over-75s. Sedentary work was the main reason for this inactivity.
Only the youngest group of men surveyed – 16- to 24-year-olds – were significantly less sedentary than the over-75s on weekdays.
At the weekend, however, the weekday situation reversed. Those aged 25 to 54 were the least sedentary, sitting for between 5.2 and 5.7 hours a day. The over-75s, by comparison, were the most sedentary, at 7.3 to 7.4 hours a day.
For the youngest group, most of the time sitting down was in front of a TV or screen. Men spent less time in front of a screen as they got older, with women peaking in middle age.
Tessa Strain, lead researcher within the university’s Physical Activity for Health Research Centre, said: “Large parts of the population are dangerously sedentary, something we have underestimated. We need to tackle high levels of sedentary time in early and middle age, when patterns may develop.
“Our findings suggest that changing habits in the workplace could be an appropriate place to start, given how much time we spend sitting there every day,” she added.