Substituting an hour of sitting for the equivalent amount of time of physical activity can lower the chance of an early death by up to 14 percent, a new study shows.
More than 200,000 Australians were part of the research which is the first to link time spent on activities with mortality and was published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity today.
It used statistical modelling of health-related data from more than 200,000 randomly sampled middle-aged and older people from New South Wales who took part in a larger study of those 45 and older over a four-year period.
The results show something as simple as swapping an hour of sitting for an hour of standing is linked to a 5 percent reduction in the risk of premature death.
For those not getting enough sleep each day, replacing one hour of sitting with that equivalent time in bed was linked to a 6 percent decrease in the likelihood of dying prematurely.
Conversely, people who traded an hour of physical activity for more sedentary activities was linked to an increase of an early death by between 13 and 17 percent.
Lead author associate professor Emmanuel Stamatakis from the Faculty of Health Sciences and Charles Perkins Centre says the study shows people need to choose what they do during each day wisely.
"The results show that inactivity is an even bigger public health challenge than we initially thought," he says.
"With the average person sitting watching two to three hours of TV a day, there is definitely scope for people to get off the couch and be more active."
Assoc prof Stamatakis' advice is simple: the more people move the better.
"It doesn’t have to be formal exercise in a gym, it can be as simple as kicking a ball with your kids in the backyard, going for a walk in the neighbourhood instead of watching another hour of TV, or walking your dog for an extra half an hour a day."
However, he says governments should realise physical activity can't be the sole domain and responsibility of individuals because "we live in a physical activity-hostile world".
This includes making physical activity the most convenient option such as installing more cycleways, better connected parks and public transport.