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Thursday Tips: Can you be physically active and still be sedentary?

According to World Health Organisation (WHO), physical inactivity is estimated to be the main cause of 21-25% of breast and colon cancer, 27% of diabetes, approximately 30% of Ischemic Heart Disease burden and is the 4th leading risk factor for death globally.

Is physical activity the same as exercise?

Physical activity is not the same as exercise. Exercise is a subcategory of physical activity that is structured, planned, repetitive and focused on training a specific muscle group or improving overall physical fitness.

What is physical activity?

Physical activity includes structured activities i.e. exercise and non- structured activities which involve bodily movement such as playing, working, household chores, walking to work, taking the stairs and recreational activities.

Global recommendations of aerobic physical activity for adults, aged 18- 64 years are 150 minutes of moderate-intensity per week OR 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity per week OR an equivalent combination of both moderate and vigorous intensity.

What is sedentary behaviour?

Sedentary behaviour research network defines sedentary behaviour as any waking behaviour characterized by an energy expenditure less than or equal to 1.5 metabolic equivalents (METs), while in a sitting, reclining, or lying posture. Sedentary behaviours are pervasive, require minimal effort, and are accumulated throughout the week.

According to studies published in the Journal of American College Health, which used devices to measure sedentary behaviours of adults, adults spend 9 hours per day sitting while older adults are sedentary for 10 hours per day.

What are the risks for prolonged sitting?

According to a review of meta-analysis, prolonged sitting for more than 8 hours per day when compared with more than 4 hours per day has more adverse health impacts on non-communicable diseases.

The highest risk has been associated with type 2 diabetes (almost double) compared to cancer, cardiovascular diseases and other chronic diseases.

How can I reduce the risk of prolonged sitting?

Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (N.E.A.T) is a cumulative effect of calories expended doing non-physical activity through the day such as walking to work, taking the stairs, doing household chores. Adding NEAT activities to your day has shown to greatly reduce the risk of prolonged sitting.

Here are 6 easy ways to start including non-exercise movement throughout the day at work:
  1. Transportation: If you drive to work, choose to park your vehicle 2 blocks away from the office or at the furthest place in the parking lot. If you use public transport, walk one bus stop and then take the bus or choose the stairs if travelling by MRT.

  2. Walking meeting: Initiate walking meetings to boost your team’s creativity and a zest of energy to the team.
  3. Standing desks: Have an option to use standing desks for part of the day. Be cautious that prolonged standing may lead to varicose veins.
  4. Start a walking challenge in office: Connect with your HR and form teams in office to start a walking challenge. Employees can be rewarded for achieving individual and group goals.
  5. Take the stairs At office or home choose to take a flight of stairs before taking the elevator when going to a higher floor. Choose stairs if your home or office is on a lower floor.
  6. Walking through the day Post lunch or post-work, if time permits, walk around the block or refill your mug of water or coffee by walking to the vending machine multiple times through the day or walk to the printer to collect your print outs.

Lower your risk for type 2 diabetes and other non-communicable disease by increasing your NEAT activities throughout the day. Reach out to our team of doctors and health coaches at MyDoc to help you know and minimise your risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other non-communicable diseases.

Always here for you, 
Sheetal Somaiya
Accredited Dietitian 
MyDoc healthcare team 


1. ‘WHO | Physical Activity’ (2017). World Health Organization. Available at: (Accessed: 16 December 2019). 
2. Vallance, J. K. et al. (2018) ‘Evaluating the Evidence on Sitting, Smoking, and Health: Is Sitting Really the New Smoking?’, American journal of public health, 108(11), pp. 1478–1482. 
3. Biswas, A. et al. (2015) ‘Sedentary time and its association with risk for disease incidence, mortality, and hospitalization in adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis’, Annals of internal medicine, 162(2), pp. 123–132.

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