Sedentary behaviour

Sedentary behavior or prolonged sitting is associated with obesity, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and (colon) cancer. The highest risk of mortality is among people who are seated most of the time and do not get any physical exercise. Sitting less than 8 hours per day and being active for at least 150 minutes per week (WHO recommendation) have a protective effect against premature death.  

What is sedentary behavior?

Sedentary people are described as “inactive people who expend less than 10% of their daily energy consumption on (at least moderate) physical exercise”. There is a direct link between a sedentary lifestyle and the risk of mortality or specific disorders.

Sedentary behavior is not the same as a lack of physical exercise: for example, someone can be sedentary during their daily activities (work or commuting) but, conversely, engage in a lot of physical exercise in their free time (e.g. sport activities). 

Does the Belgians have a sedentary lifestyle?

According to the Food Consumption Survey (2014), sedentary behavior increases during childhood and adolescence. In addition, this survey indicates that Belgian adults spend a large part of their day sitting down.

Why do we have a sedentary lifestyle?

New technologies and mechanization have influenced people’s jobs and their daily activities. Rapid urbanization, the increase in motorized transport and the fact that people spend more of their free time doing activities that involve sitting down (screen activities like watching TV and using the computer) are bringing about global changes in physical activity and sedentary behavior.

Why does physical exercise need to be promoted?

Shorter sitting times and adequate physical exercise directly protect against premature mortality not only in healthy people but also in people with cardiovascular disorders, diabetes, excess weight and obesity. Therefore, public health programs should not only focus on more physical exercise but, also on less “sitting time”.  

Large numbers of children and adolescents exceed the recommended limits for screen time. Moreover, screen time only accounts for part of the total time they spend sitting down. It is important for children, adolescents and adults to reduce their total sitting time. It is also important to interrupt longer periods of sitting with (relatively) short periods of physical exercise. For example, by encouraging children and certainly adolescents to spend time doing alternative activities.

Sciensano charts the level of physical exercise and sedentary behavior among the Belgian population and monitors its evolution. We collect the data on this subject through the national Health Interview Survey and the Food Consumption Survey.

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