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United Kingdom

Britain’s couch potato lifestyles could be causing 50,000 deaths a year

Couch potato lifestyles could be causing 70,000 deaths in the UK annually, a major study suggests. The research suggests 12 per cent of all deaths are associated with sedentary behaviour, driving up rates of diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

The study - the first to quantify the impact of such lifestyles on NHS spending, and on Britain’s death toll - follows research which suggests workers need to do an hour’s exercise - such as brisk walking - to counter the deadly impact of a day in the office.

Researchers said 30 per cent of adults in England spend at least six hours a day being sedentary on week days - rising to 37 per cent at weekends.

The study pooled data from a number of studies, which examined the links between long periods sitting, and the risks of common diseases.

The modelling, by Queen’s University, Belfast, suggests that  69,276 deaths a year are associated with sedentary behaviour - 11.6 per cent of all deaths.

Researchers said the impact of such lifestyles on conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer amounted to around £0.7bn of NHS spending annually.

Previous studies have suggested that spending a day sitting at a desk, without any extra physical activity, could increase the risk of premature mortality by up to 60 per cent.

Lead Investigator, Leonie Heron from the Centre of Public Health at Queen’s University Belfast, said: “Many individuals in the UK spend their leisure time in sedentary behaviour, and the workplace represents a significant proportion of unavoidable daily sitting time for many people.”

Steven Ward, chief executive of ukactive, said people should get moving, warning “sitting still kills.”

“It doesn’t have to mean major lifestyle changes – building activity into everyday life is a great place to start, such as taking the opportunity to stand on the bus rather than take a seat, or answering phone calls at work standing up rather than sitting down,” he said.

Prof Naveed Sattar, Professor of Metabolic Medicine, University of Glasgow, said those whose jobs meant a lot of sitting down should make an effort to be active at other times of the day, or try to take regular short walks.

He said: “People should aim to accumulate more activity commuting to their works or during their evenings.  Even adding an extra 1000 steps per day is a reachable target for most if they feel they are not getting enough activity.

Dr Gavin Sandercock, Reader in Clinical Physiology (Cardiology) and Director of Research, University of Essex, said: “We know sitting too much can be bad for health but this is the first really detailed look at the cost of problem in the UK.

The move from manufacturing to a predominantly service-based industry means that people sitting at desks are now the backbone of the UK economy.  

Sitting less might save some lives and cost the NHS less but, because we have created a sitting-based economy, there are likely to be costs associated with interventions to reduce sitting-time in the workplace," he said. 

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