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DAPA Measurement Toolkit


Sedentary behaviour


Behaviour is defined as sedentary if it satisfies all of the following criteria:

  • Requires little or no energy expenditure (≤ 1.5 METs)
  • Performed in a sitting or reclining posture
  • The individual is awake

Sedentary behaviours exist at the lower end of the energy expenditure continuum (Figure P.1.7), and can include:

  • Driving
  • Watching TV
  • Playing video games
  • Sitting in an office or school environment

Activities performed while seated or reclined that require physical work > 1.5 METs are not considered to be sedentary behaviours. These may include:

  • Rowing
  • Cycling
  • Pushing a manual wheelchair
  • Playing computer games requiring whole-body movement
  • Floor-based play in young children

In contrast, some standing activities may be ≤1.5 MET [10]. These are not classified as sedentary behaviours as they lack the sitting/reclining postural element.

Figure P.1.7 The continuum of human movement and energy expenditure.

Evidence suggests that sedentary behaviour is a strong independent risk factor for all-cause mortality, especially when it is prolonged and uninterrupted [4, 9]

It is associated with greater risk of:

  • Cardiovascular disease [2, 7, 8]
  • Cancer [2, 12]
  • Type 2 diabetes [2, 8]
  • Intermediate cardio-metabolic risk [13]

Sedentary behaviour is not equivalent to inactivity or low overall levels of physical activity (i.e. not meeting physical activity guidelines) [11]. Physical activity and sedentary behaviour are often uncorrelated at group level [1], and high levels of daily sedentary behaviour and moderate-to-vigorous physical activity can co-exist in the same individual [5, 6] (Figure P.1.8, below). Such a person could plausibly meet current physical activity guidelines and yet still incur a higher risk of sedentary behaviour-related health risks.

Figure P.1.8 Four different and plausible daily activity profiles. Profile D illustrates the potential for high levels of sedentary behaviour and moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) to co-exist.


  1. Biddle SJ, Gorely T, Marshall SJ, Murdey I, Cameron N. Physical activity and sedentary behaviours in youth: issues and controversies. The journal of the Royal Society for the Promotion of Health. 2004;124(1):29-33.
  2. Biswas A, Oh PI, Faulkner GE, Bajaj RR, Silver MA, Mitchell MS, et al. 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. 2015;162(2):123-32.
  3. British Heart Foundation National Centre for Physical Activity and Health. Evidence Briefing: Sedentary Behaviour2012. Available from:
  4. Chau JY, Grunseit AC, Chey T, Stamatakis E, Brown WJ, Matthews CE, et al. Daily Sitting Time and All-Cause Mortality: A Meta-Analysis. Plos One. 2013;8(11):e80000.
  5. Craft LL, Zderic TW, Gapstur SM, Vaniterson EH, Thomas DM, Siddique J, et al. Evidence that women meeting physical activity guidelines do not sit less: an observational inclinometry study. The international journal of behavioral nutrition and physical activity. 2012;9:122.
  6. Ekelund U, Luan Ja, Sherar LB, Esliger DW, Griew P, Cooper A. Association of moderate to vigorous physical activity and sedentary time with cardiometabolic risk factors in children and adolescents. JAMA : the journal of the American Medical Association. 2012;307(7):704-12.
  7. Ford ES, Caspersen CJ. Sedentary behaviour and cardiovascular disease: a review of prospective studies. International journal of epidemiology. 2012;41(5):1338-53.
  8. Grontved A, Hu FB. Television viewing and risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and all-cause mortality: a meta-analysis. JAMA. 2011;305(23):2448-55.
  9. Katzmarzyk PT, Church TS, Craig CL, Bouchard C. Sitting time and mortality from all causes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. Medicine and science in sports and exercise. 2009;41(5):998-1005.
  10. Mansoubi M, Pearson N, Clemes SA, Biddle SJ, Bodicoat DH, Tolfrey K, et al. Energy expenditure during common sitting and standing tasks: examining the 1.5 MET definition of sedentary behaviour. BMC public health. 2015;15:516.
  11. Sedentary Behaviour Research Network. Letter to the editor: standardized use of the terms "sedentary" and "sedentary behaviours". Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2012;37(3):540-2.
  12. Schmid D, Leitzmann MF. Television viewing and time spent sedentary in relation to cancer risk: a meta-analysis. Journal of the National Cancer Institute. 2014;106(7).
  13. Wijndaele K, Orrow G, Ekelund U, Sharp SJ, Brage S, Griffin SJ, et al. Increasing objectively measured sedentary time increases clustered cardiometabolic risk: a 6 year analysis of the ProActive study. Diabetologia. 2014;57(2):305-12.