Swap sitting for sleep to improve your health? (#ICPAPH12 / #beactive2012)

Yesterday I had the privilege of presenting during the same session as Dr Matthew Buman at the International Congress on Physical Activity and Public Health.  Dr Buman’s work focuses on the relationship between physical activity, sedentary behaviour, sleep and health, and his talk was on a new cross-sectional study which examined the potential health impact of replacing time spent sitting down (e.g. sedentary behaviour) with light activity, moderate-to-vigorous activity, or even sleep.

Not surprisingly, he found that replacing sitting time with moderate or vigorous physical activity provides the biggest health benefit.  However, his analysis of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey suggests that simply replacing your sitting time with light activity (e.g. standing or walking), or even sleep could result in significant health benefits.  This reminded me of a recent editorial that I published with Dr Jean-Philippe Chaput in the British Journal of Nutrition, which asked whether it could be healthier to sleep through your favourite tv programs, rather than watching them.  The editorial was intentionally provocative, and while this new work by Dr Buman is cross-sectional, it is part of a growing body of evidence suggesting that light activity and sleep need greater attention when it comes to health research.  This work also highlights the importance of studying the full 24-hour cycle of human movement, rather than the traditional focus on MVPA, which accounts for <5% of the total day.

My brief interview with Dr Buman can be seen below.  You can find out more about the School of Nutrition and Health Promotion at ASU here.

Tomorrow is the last day of the conference, but I’ve done a few other interviews during my time in Sydney which I will upload over the coming days and weeks.  I hope everyone enjoyed the conference, and for other recaps of what’s been happening over the past few days here at the Convention Centre be sure to check out the official conference blog at beactiveblog.com.


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7 Responses to Swap sitting for sleep to improve your health? (#ICPAPH12 / #beactive2012)

  1. Jonathan says:

    Hey Travis,

    Can you propose a mechanism for this phenomenon? I have a hard time understanding how ‘sitting’, the posture, can be so bad for us. Sitting, sedentary behaviour, and television watching seem to be used interchangeably, but what are they all proxies of? I wonder if a person who is seated but doing a mentally/physically demanding job (e.g. fighter pilot, 911 operator) suffer from poor health markers as well.


    • Travis says:

      Great questions, Jonathan. Sorry for the delay in responding, I’ve just gotten back from a week of travel following the conference in Australia.

      It seems counter-intuitive that sitting could have a distinct health impact, but it looks like it does. It’s not so much about the posture of sitting though, it has to do with muscle inactivity. So lying down is also bad, but exercising in the seated position (like while riding an exercise bike) shouldn’t pose a problem.

      The mechanisms seem to be do mainly to changes in the postural muscles that keep your body upright when you are standing or walking. When you sit for a long period of time it seems as though there are changes in those muscles that result in increases in the amount of sugar and fat in your blood, which increases your health risk. Seated mental work (like the 911 dispatcher) can also increase food intake, even though it doesn’t boost your energy expenditure very much. Ditto for watching television (exposure to food ads has been shown to immediately increase food intake in both adults and kids).

      I’ve gone over a lot of the mechanisms in more detail in a previous post, which you can find here:


  2. Very interesting, thanks for sharing. Do you have a note of the average sleep times from the study? Dr Bauman has not published this yet has he? I look forward to reading more….
    I hope everyone had a great time at ICPAPH, looks amazing! I was so sorry to miss it!

    • Travis says:

      Great question, and unfortunately I’m not sure. The data isn’t published yet, but I’m hoping to blog about it when it is.

      But his data came from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) in the US, which means that the data is likely representative of the American population, which is nice. Unfortunately I just don’t know what the precise numbers are, and I didn’t come across them in a quick search of Google Scholar. There is some info from the CDC (who run the NHANES survey) on American sleep data at the below link, which might be helpful.


  3. Pingback: Sitting, Sleeping & Light Intensity PA « Sedentary Blethering

  4. Travis–is there a free full text available of your BNJ editorial, “Is obesity prevention as simple as turning off the television and having a nap?”

    Thanks 😉