New research published in the European Heart Journal suggests that making simple swaps in your daily routine, like replacing sitting time with sleep or light activity, can have measurable effects on health.
The study found that substituting just 30 minutes of sitting time with an equal amount of sleep was associated with lower body weight and smaller waistlines. Replacing sitting with standing or light activity had similar benefits.
With obesity and related chronic diseases on the rise globally, the findings highlight the importance of reducing sedentary behaviors.
Sitting Less By Sleeping More
The study included over 2500 adults aged 35 to 65 across five countries in Europe. Participants wore activity trackers to monitor their movement and sleeping habits for one week. Researchers then compared results from those who replaced 30 minutes of sitting time per day with sleep to those who remained sedentary.
Individuals substituting sitting for sleeping showed an average weight loss of 0.95 lbs (0.43 kg) and a 0.63 inch (1.6 cm) reduction in waist circumference. Lead author Dr. Simon Smith states, “This shows that apparently trivial changes in daily behavior can have tangible health benefits.” He notes that the weight loss may seem minor, but at a population level could have a significant impact.
The researchers speculate that getting more sleep gives the body time to repair tissues and clear out inflammation that contributes to metabolic disease. Smith says, “Waist circumference is important because carrying excess fat around the abdomen is associated with higher risks of premature death and various health conditions including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, certain cancers, and heart disease.”
Stand Up and Walk Around
The other group of interest in the study replaced 30 minutes of sitting with standing or light activity. They experienced similar benefits, losing nearly 1 lb (0.42 kg) of weight and reducing waist size by over half an inch on average.
Light activity was defined as walking slowly, cooking, washing dishes, leisurely gardening, stretching, or taking a stroll. Dr. Smith notes that very short bursts of activity throughout the day can add up to meaningful changes over time. “There are many simple ways to increase movement throughout the day, like taking the stairs, pacing during phone calls, or doing housework.”
He emphasizes that people shouldn’t feel discouraged if they can’t get to the gym. “Every single minute of physical activity adds up and produces health benefits. Our study demonstrates even small changes can have an impact.”
Sedentary Lifestyles Linked to Health Risks
The analysis controlled for diet, exercise, medications, and other factors, indicating that less sitting alone was independently associated with improved measures of health. This builds on prior research demonstrating that sedentary time is a risk factor for early mortality and various chronic diseases.
Prolonged sitting requires little energy expenditure, which can slow metabolism. One study found that people who sat watching television for more than 3 hours a day had an increased risk of premature death compared to those watching less than 1 hour daily. desk-based office workers are another high risk group.
Dr. Smith cautions that sitting cannot be fully compensated for through exercise. “While an active lifestyle is important, reducing sitting time could provide health benefits even if your exercise regimen stays the same.” He notes that neither sleep nor light activity fully counteracted the effects of sitting, indicating that reducing total sedentary time is key.
Tips for Less Sitting, More Moving
Public health experts say most adults should aim for less than 8 hours of sedentary time per day. Here are some tips for reducing sitting and increasing light physical activity:
- Take short walks during work breaks or meetings
- Set reminders to get up every 30 minutes
- Replace sitting meetings with walking meetings when possible
- Swap out your desk chair for a standing desk option
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator
- Go for a stroll around the block after lunch or dinner
- Do light household chores like sweeping, folding laundry, or washing dishes
- Practice stretching exercises during TV commercials
- Replace 30 minutes of TV watching with an evening stroll
Aim for Sleep Duration Targets
Along with cutting sitting time, adults should make sure they’re meeting sleep duration recommendations. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine advises:
- Ages 18-60: Sleep 7 or more hours per night on a regular basis
- Ages 61-64: Sleep 7 to 9 hours per night
- Ages 65 and older: Sleep 7 to 8 hours per night
Establishing a consistent bedtime routine and limiting screen time before bed can support healthy sleep habits. Catching up on sleep is also beneficial, but maintaining consistency is ideal.
Small Steps Can Pay Off
Replacing as little as 30 minutes of sitting with sleep or light activity may not seem like much on paper. But as the European Heart Journal study demonstrates, these minor changes in daily habits can produce meaningful improvements in weight and waist circumference over time.
With rates of obesity and related chronic illnesses continuing to climb globally, simple strategies that get people up and moving more could have significant population health benefits.