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Move Yourself to Better Health

Physical Activity

Sedentary Time

Outdoor Play For Schools For Workplaces Sedentary Time Walking 

Sitting is the new smoking

Attitudes towards smoking in the 1970s are like attitudes towards sitting now – a lot of people are doing it, and doing it everywhere. We are slowly becoming more aware about the harmful effects of sitting for long periods of time, but like smoking in the 1970s, a lot of people aren’t aware of the negative effects.
Like smoking, sitting has a large amount of research showing us how damaging sedentary time is to our health. Sedentary time is linked to dying earlier, obesity, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure , some cancers, and mental health problems.

man sitting with clock and no entry sign

What is sedentary time?

Sedentary time is any time spent with very little movement, usually sitting.

standing at desk

Sedentary time can include:

  • watching TV
  • computer time
  • commuting
  • workplace desk jobs
  • reading

little man  Did you know?

Sleeping does not count as sedentary time.  Sleep is important for your health and adults need 7-9 hours of sleep every day.

Standing can improve your health:

  • boost your energy
  • refocus your mind
  • improve your memory

Spending too much time sitting can take years off your life and put your health at risk. 

Some of the things you are more at risk for are:

  • heart disease
  • diabetes
  • obesity
  • some cancers
  • early death

little man  Did you know?

TV viewing is the most common sedentary behaviour for adults, in their leisure time.

(Tremblay, 2010)

Video - Dr. Mike Evans: Let's Make Our Day Harder Video

Sedentary time and your health

How is sedentary time linked to heart disease, obesity, and diabetes?

  • When eating food, sugars and fats end up in the blood.  Muscles use the sugars and fats as energy.
  • When sitting, muscles do not use very much energy.  The longer you sit, the faster fats and sugars build up in your blood, which strains the body to try and keep normal levels.

Sedentary Time and Your Health

Having too much fat and sugar in the blood:

  • lowers good (HDL) cholesterol
  • puts stress on the pancreas
  • creates insulin resistance

Over time this can cause:

  • obesity
  • diabetes
  • heart disease

Does exercise make up for the time I spend sitting?

  • No, physical activity does not reverse the harmful effects of sitting because sitting affects your muscles differently than being active does.


little man  Did you know?

While you may be meeting the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines, it is also important to limit the amount of time you spend sitting.  To get maximum health benefits, it is important to be physically active, stand when you can, and get up every 30 minutes.

Tips for adults

standing at desk

At home

  • Stand or clean while talking on the phone.
  • Fold laundry or iron while watching TV.
  • Stand up and stretch during commercial breaks.
  • Instead of spending leisure time sitting, try having fun being active.

At work

  • Walk to a colleague’s desk instead of e-mailing or using the phone.
  • Stand up and stretch after 30 minutes of sitting.
  • Stand:
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator.

While travelling

  • Leave your car at home and take public transit so you can walk to and from stops/stations.
  • Park your car farther away from your destination and walk the rest of the way.
  • Plan regular breaks during long car trips.
  • Get off public transit one stop earlier and walk the rest of the way.

Sedentary time at work

The workplace can be a great place to promote awareness about sedentary time. This is because many adults spend 2/3 of their day at work and sitting might be part of the job.

There are many tasks at work that are usually done sitting, such as:

  • computer work (desk work)
  • meetings
  • driving (bus drivers, truckers, commuting)
  • talking on the phone (telemarketing, phone line support, etc)
  • being stationed at a booth or posting (bank teller, ticket booth sales, etc)

It’s important to stand when you can or get up every 30 minutes at work. We have some resources to help including posters, fact sheets, and booklets. Take a look at our resources or workplaces can contact their Public Health Nurse for more assistance with addressing this topic in their workplace. If you are a Durham Region workplace but do not have a Public Health Nurse, please visit Healthy Workplaces

Sedentary guidelines for children and youth

kids playing with electronics

Sedentary guidelines for infants and preschoolers ages 0-4

  • Screen time is not recommended for children under the age of 2. 
  • For children ages 2-4, screen time should be limited to less than 1 hour per day; less is better.
  • Limit time spent sitting or being restrained in car seats or strollers to less than 1 hour at a time.

Sedentary guidelines for children ages 5-11 and youth ages 12-18

  • Limit leisure screen time to less than 2 hours per day; less is better.

Tips for infants, children, and youth

girl playing with hula hoop
  • Infants can be active through interactive, floor-based play with a caregiver.
  • Take children outdoors every day to play.
  • Be a role model and enjoy being active with your children!
  • Limit time spent sitting in the car and on the bus. On long car rides, plan stops for stretching and active playtime.
  • Instead of driving, walk to school with family or friends.
  • Keep TVs and computers out of bedrooms.
  • Have rules and limits on time spent watching TV or playing video games.
  • Instead of screen time in the evening, go for a family walk or bike ride.

Spending less time sitting can help children and youth:

  • have fun and feel happy
  • do better in school
  • improve their self-confidence
  • maintain a healthy body weight
  • learn new skills

little man  Did you know?

Sleeping does not count as sedentary time.  Sleep is important for your health and school aged children need at least 10 hours of sleep every day.