Canada Releases World’s First Evidence-Based Sedentary Guidelines

Exciting news today – this morning the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (CSEP) released the world’s first evidence-based sedentary behaviour guidelines.  There have been some guidelines in the past, most notably for screen time, but they were essentially based on best-guesses more than any objective evidence.

These new guidelines are specifically for those aged 5-17, although there will hopefully be guidelines for both older and younger age-groups in the near future.  The systematic review that these guidelines are based on is currently under peer review (I was involved with the review, but not the guidelines process itself), and I can tell you that performing this type of large review on multiple mental and physical health outcomes is pretty daunting (hence why the current guidelines only cover one specific age-group).

The full guidelines process has been outlined from start to finish in next month’s issue of Applied Physiology, Nutrition Metabolism (available ahead of print here), and as with Canada’s new physical activity guidelines, the process was nothing if not rigorous.

The Sedentary Guidelines Process

Regular readers will know that these new sedentary behaviour guidelines are in addition to the physical activity guidelines which CSEP released last month.  Why would they separate the guidelines for physical activity and sedentary behaviour?  Because sitting too much is not the same as exercising too little.  These new evidence-based guidelines are an important step towards reducing the extremely high levels of sedentary behaviour seen in modern societies, Canada included.

What are the guidelines?

From the CSEP website (The guidelines are similar for children aged 5-11 and those aged youth aged 12-17, so I have only included those for children):

The definition of sedentary time used to create these guidelines is the same one used in a narrative review published by our research group late last year.  Namely, that sedentary behaviours are: “A distinct class of behaviours (i.e., sitting, watching television, playing video games) that is characterized by little physical movement and low energy expenditure <1.5 METs.” In other words, if you are sitting down and not explicitly exercising, you are being sedentary.

What are the health benefits associated with meeting these guidelines?

  • Improved self-confidence
  • Better grades
  • Improved fitness
  • Maintaining a health body weight

As I mentioned earlier, the systematic review that these guidelines are based on is currently under review, and I’ll share the full details as soon as it passes through peer review.  And for a recap of the reasons why sedentary behaviour is unhealthy, even among those who are meeting physical activity guidelines, you can check out my 5-part series on sedentary physiology.

How can we help children achieve these guidelines?

Not surprisingly, the one-page summary of the guidelines doesn’t get into too much detail on this.  However they do have the following graphic, which illustrates the key periods that are ripe for intervention:

As the figure illustrates, the key time-periods that parents have influence over are the morning, afternoon and evening.  Simple ways to reduce sedentary behaviour during these time periods are to encourage active transportation (walking, cycling, or even taking transit as opposed to being driven by parents) to school, and limiting the use of TV and other screen-based entertainment in the afternoon and early evening.  In a perfect world this screen time would be replaced by physical activity, but keep in mind that simply standing is still better than sitting, and almost anything is more active than watching TV. For those who are interested, full details on the guidelines can be found on the CSEP website, and in the new paper outlining the guidelines process in APNM.

ResearchBlogging.orgTremblay, MS, Leblanc, AG, Janssen, I, Kho, ME, Hicks, A, Murumets, K, Colley, RC, & Duggan, M (2011). Canadian Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines for Children and Youth Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism, 36 : 10.1139/H11-012

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