Nathan Brookes

Why we should sit less and move more

Too much sitting and too little activity can be a risk to your health.

While most people are aware of the benefits of physical activity — increased muscle and strength, reduced risk of disease, better quality of life and a lower risk of death — we tend to be less aware of the negative effects of reduced physical activity.

Among the increasing evidence for the risks of prolonged periods of sitting is a recent study led by a team from the University of Salford and Salford Royal.

It’s the first paper to show that people who are inactive and sit for long periods can have reduced passive hip extension (the backwards movement of the hip). The researchers say it’s possible their findings indicate a physiological adaptation in passive muscle stiffness secondary to reduced activity. This may lead to increased discomfort or difficulties with daily tasks such as walking or stairs. They hope to carry out further research to explore the links between too much sitting and musculoskeletal pain such as low back, hip and knee pain.

Senior author and musculoskeletal physiotherapist Nathan Brookes (pictured) said: “In this study, we found significant differences in hip flexibility between participants who were highly active and spent minimal time sitting (less than four hours a day) and those who had prolonged time sitting (more than seven hours a day) and low activity. It seems that increased activity, whether it is organised or part of your daily lifestyle, reduces the risk of passive hip stiffness.

Many adults in the UK spend around nine hours a day sitting. This includes watching TV, using a computer, reading, doing homework, and travelling. Many people who have switched to working from home during the Covid pandemic have found they have reduced levels of activity, while others have been affected by closures of sports activities during lockdown periods.

Mr Brookes added: ”Regular activity interspersed through your day is likely to help reduce the risk of prolonged sitting. This may be organised activity such as attending the gym or simply just integrating a bit more movement into your day by walking a bit more or standing when taking calls. Perhaps use an activity tracker to track your step count or set reminders/goals on a smart watch or on your phone.“

The paper Prolonged sitting and physical inactivity are associated with limited hip extension: A cross-sectional study’ by Abderrahmane Boukabache, Stephen Preece and Nathan Brookes is published in Musculoskeletal Science and Practice.