Albertans should move more and sit less: study

Students, full-time employees most likely to sit for more than 10 hours a day.

(Edmonton) Increasing physical activity and decreasing sedentary behaviour should be a priority for Albertans, according to a new survey out of the University of Alberta.

Results from the 2015 Alberta Survey on Physical Activity (Alberta Survey), published March 9 by the U of A's Alberta Centre for Active Living, show that one-third of Albertans sit for 10 hours or more a day, with the average Albertan sitting nine hours per weekday and 8.25 hours on weekend days.

Christina Loitz, co-author of the report and knowledge translation specialist at the Alberta Centre for Active Living, said, "Sedentary behaviour has been associated with poor health, independent from physical inactivity. This means if one sits for 12 hours a day and exercises for 30 minutes, they are still at risk of several chronic diseases."

Among other results, the Alberta Survey determined there are significant differences in sedentary behaviour time according to age. "One unexpected finding was that adults aged 18 to 34 are the most likely to spend more than 10 hours a day in sedentary behaviour," said Loitz. "We found that adults aged 65 or older were the most likely to be in the lowest tertile of sedentary behaviour, at less than six hours per day."

The report also showed that significant differences in sedentary time exist according to employment status. Students and full-time employees are most likely to sit for more than 10 hours per day. People who are unemployed, retired, semi-retired, or on leave or disability are the most likely to be sedentary for less than six hours per day.

Recommendations for action

According to the Alberta Survey, 60 per cent of Albertans are getting enough physical activity for health benefits.

The Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines recommend that adults should engage in a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week and should minimize the amount of sitting time to achieve health benefits.

Physical inactivity and sedentary behaviour are risk factors for physical and mental health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, stroke, high blood pressure, colon and breast cancers, diabetes, depression and anxiety.

"Albertans can be more active and less sedentary by being mindful of their activity levels and choices," said Nora Johnston, director of the Alberta Centre for Active Living. "To make change that will be sustained, start slow and work towards realistic goals. Workplaces and communities can create a culture that supports moving more, standing more and being more active."

The survey includes recommendations in three key areas:

  • active transportation (e.g., walking, cycling, wheeling)
  • leisure time activities (e.g., dog walking, outdoor fun, sports and active time with others)
  • workplace practices (e.g., active breaks, standing more often, using the stairs and fitness facilities, encouraging walking meetings or challenges)

"Individuals, workplaces, communities, organizations, and policy- and decision-makers can all take steps to support and promote active living," said Johnston. "By promoting and supporting a more active, less sedentary population, [they] can help to improve health outcomes, which in turn reduces health-care costs and some of the economic burden on the health-care system."

Loitz said that developing a wide range of public health strategies is important. "For instance, municipalities can develop safe commuter routes to help promote active transportation. Employers can be proactive by providing fitness facilities and showers, and encouraging active breaks, stretching and standing at work. They can also engage with employees and support workplace wellness committees or initiatives."

"One of the best tools that Albertans and students can access is the website," said Johnston. "This is an interactive site that can help individuals and groups track their steps or physical activities. It's also helpful for motivation and maintaining a lifestyle change that includes more walking."

The Alberta Centre for Active Living is a research centre of the U of A's Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation and funded by Alberta Culture and Tourism. The centre supports researchers and organizations in knowledge mobilization of physical activity and sedentary behaviour information.

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