October 9, 2014

People with deskbound or sedentary jobs who have difficulty finding time to work out still can meet national guidelines for physical activity as long as they engage in other active daily tasks.

Those are the findings of a new study from researchers at The University of North Carolina’s Gillings School of Global Public Health and published online Sept. 4 by the journal Social Science Medicine.

The study, titled “No time for the gym? Housework and other non-labor market time use patterns are associated with meeting physical activity recommendations among adults in full-time, sedentary jobs,” found that, among people with sedentary jobs, those who spent significant time in their hours away from their jobs in activities such as housework, gardening, yard work or caregiving were more likely to approach or meet proscribed guidelines for activity.

The results also suggest that interventions aimed at reducing sitting time among sedentary workers should focus on cutting both screen time and non-screen time sedentary activities.

Lindsey Smith

Lindsey Smith

“Reducing screen time is important, but it’s also vital that people recognize too much time sitting doing anything can be detrimental, especially for people who sit all day at work,” said Lindsey Smith, MPH, doctoral candidate in nutrition at the Gillings School and first author on the study. “This includes sitting while socializing, reading, running errands and other non-work activities.”

Smith adds that small changes in such habits often can be much easier for people to incorporate into their daily lives than are large-scale or radical changes. She cautions, however, that more study is needed to ascertain how overall time-use activities and patterns are related to obesity and health outcomes. Other research shows that this type of non-exercise physical activity can have a major impact on preventing weight gain, since activities like home repair or gardening burn significantly more calories than sedentary activities like watching TV.

Smith adds that for people in general, but especially for individuals with sedentary jobs, the message about physical activity is fairly clear.

“Whenever possible, sit less, move more,” she says. “If you think doing more daily tasks does not count or are not worth counting, that’s not the case. Daily tasks can be important sources of movement to help get people with desk-bound jobs to meet recommendations.”

The study was co-authored by Shu Wen Ng, PhD, research assistant professor and Barry Popkin, PhD, W.R. Kenan Jr, Distinguished Professor, both in the Gillings School’s Department of Nutrition.

The full study can be found online here.

Gillings School of Global Public Health contact: David Pesci, director of communications, (919) 962-2600 or dpesci@unc.edu.


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