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Quick Tip: Live Longer by Sitting Less

A new study estimates the impact of being sedentary—sitting and watching television—on U.S. life expectancy.

Americans are too sedentary. If everyone in the country cut back on the amount of time sitting or watching TV, people could live longer.

In a paper published in BMJ Open, researchers estimate that if Americans spent less than 3 hours a day sitting, the U.S. life expectancy could increase by 2 years. Reducing the time watching television to less than 2 hours a day could add 1.4 years.

Life expectancy is a measure of the average lifespan of a population. Currently, it's 78.5 years for Americans.

Previous research has already shown that spending too much time sitting or watching television can damage your health. Diabetes and death from heart disease or stroke are all linked to a sedentary lifestyle.

Other studies have found similar connections between health activities and lifespan. Obesity shortens life expectancy for Americans by up to 1 year. Smoking reduces it by 2.5 years for men, and 1.8 years for women.

The new study, which involved analyzing data from previous research, doesn’t show how being sedentary affects individuals. Instead, it gives an estimate of the effect of sitting and watching television on the U.S. population as a whole. It does, however, highlight the importance of becoming more active.

The 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity a week. Many Americans don’t reach that target. But even people who work out frequently can still spend much of their day being sedentary, especially if they work at a desk or commute long distances.

The bottom line is that everyone can benefit from moving more throughout the day. Obviously, this includes watching television less, but you can also stand up and walk more often at work, and plan active time on weekends—such as playing Frisbee instead of sitting at the bar.

Another option? Try investing in a standing work station, which allows you to get through your workday—without spending the majority of it on your duff.

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