Nurses can help raise public awareness that prolonged sitting comes with health risks.
"Please have a seat," may be a polite way to greet patients but the more assertive, "Don't just sit there!" could improve their health.
Research has found that sitting for too many hours per day, or sitting for long periods without breaks, increases a wide range of health risks. In fact, sitting has been called "the new smoking." And, just as they play a role in smoking cessation education, nurses can also improve patients' health and public awareness by discussing sitting's harm effects.
"Nurses have a pivotal role to play in increasing public awareness about the potential adverse effects of high-volume and prolonged uninterrupted sitting," Linda Eanes, EdD, MSN, assistant professor at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, Edinburg, School of Nursing, says in a recent integrative literature review in the September issue of the American Journal of Nursing.
The Health Risks of Too Much Sitting
Studies have shown a direct relationship between prolonged sitting and the risk of several chronic health conditions, regardless of whether a person is physically active. Increased health risks have been reported for high-volume sitting, such as sitting for seven or more hours per day, and for prolonged uninterrupted sitting, such as sitting for 30 minutes or longer without a break.
Health risks from too much sitting include:
- cardiovascular disease
- all-cause mortality
- increase risk of certain cancers, including ovarian, endometrial, and colon cancer
Stand Up for Your Health
For optimal health promotion, nurses must educate patients about the health risks of prolonged sedentary time and make suggestions to decrease and interrupt sitting times.
Proposed interventions include:
- using a standing desk
- frequent walking or standing breaks
- setting computer or smartphone reminders for brief physical activity breaks during the day
While promoting regular physical activity is still important, nurses should focus more on evaluating a patient's total daily sitting time, and understanding the individual, social, occupational, community, and environmental factors that contribute to it.
"Nurses can also actively encourage all patients, regardless of demographics, to balance sedentary behavior and physical activity simply by taking more frequent standing or walking breaks," Eanes says. She writes that nurses are well positioned to contribute to research on the health risks associated with prolonged sitting – and the most effective interventions for reducing those risks.
Jennifer Thew, RN, is the senior nursing editor at HealthLeaders.