DEC 12, 2015 12:06 PM PST

Too Much Sitting and Sleeping Just As Bad as Smoking and Drinking

WRITTEN BY: Julianne Chiaet
For the first time in history, non-infectious diseases are killing more people than infectious diseases. Non-infectious diseases cause more than two-thirds of the deaths around the world per year. The most common diseases include heart diseases, cancer, and diabetes. For the most part, lifestyle factors are to blame. These factors include smoking, excessive use of alcohol, physical inactivity, and an unhealthy diet. 

A new study found two more mortality risk factors are as serious risk factors as smoking and drinking. The behavioral risk factors are living a sedentary lifestyle and having unhealthy sleep patterns. A sedentary lifestyle means a lifestyle in which a person sits for more than seven hours per day. This is different than the “physical activity” risk factor, which has to do with exercise. Having unhealthy sleep patterns means a person sleeps less than 7 or more than 9 hours per night. 
The risk factor of having a sedentary lifestyle means you sit for more than seven hours per day.
University of Sydney researchers followed 231,048 Australians, aged 45 or older. Each study participants completed a lifestyle questionnaire at the beginning of the study. The questionnaire took six health behaviors into consideration: smoking, alcohol consumption, diet, physical activity sedentary behavior, and sleep. The researchers used each participant's answers to come up with a risk index score. 

One-third of all participants reported they were not exposed to any risk factors. Respectively, a third, fifth, and tenth reported exposure to one, two, and three or more risk factors. 

The researchers found their index score was a good predictor of mortality. Having more than one risk factors was linked to increased mortality. A third of all the years lost due to death could have been avoided if all the participants had zero risk factors, provided all six risk factors are responsible for illness and death. 

The most common combinations of risk factors were also the most strongly associated with mortality. One of those combinations was physical inactivity, sedentary behavior, and/or long sleep duration. The other was the combination of smoking and high alcohol consumption. 

The accuracy of the study was limited by the fact that the researchers were relying on self-reported exposure to risk factors. In addition, there was a lack of data on long-term patterns of these behaviors. 

By encouraging people to adopt a healthier lifestyle, the rate of non-infectious diseases could be reduced. Thus, it is important to understand all the risk factors involved in order to make the most effective public health plan. 

The study was published on December 8, 2015, in PLOS Medicine

Source: publicly published study via PLOS Medicine, press release via EurekAlert!
About the Author
  • Julianne (@JuliChiaet) covers health and medicine for LabRoots. Her work has been published in The Daily Beast, Scientific American, and MailOnline. While primarily a science journalist, she has also covered culture and Japanese organized crime. She is the New York Board Representative for the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA). • To read more of her writing, or to send her a message, go to
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