British men have become even more inactive than expected over the last two decades, according to a study.


The research has highlighted that sedentary behaviours for both men and women have increased since 2002. But for British men the rise is higher than expected, researchers said.

The study, published in the journal BMC Public Health, examined data on sedentary behaviours across Europe in 2002 and again in 2005, 2013 and 2017.

Researchers measured the rates of sedentary behaviours – counted as more than four-and-a-half hours each day sitting – of almost 100,000 people from across the European Union, including British adults.

They found that sedentary behaviours rose across Europe between 2002 and 2017.

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Just under half (49.3 per cent) were inactive for more than four-and-a-half hours each day in 2002.

By 2017, this had risen to 54.5 per cent across Europe.

The team, led by researchers from Madrid in Spain, found that levels of inactivity particularly rose among men.

But in some countries, levels of activity grew at a quicker rate than expected by researchers.

“The sedentary behaviour prevalence observed in 2017 was higher than the expected for men in Austria, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, Ireland, Lithuania, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Sweden, and the Netherlands,” they wrote.

Figures from the report show that in 2002, 45.7 per cent of British men spent four-and-a-half hours of their day seated.

But by 2017 this figure had risen to 57.2 per cent.

They also noticed a rise among British women – 42.4 per cent participated in “sedentary behaviours” in 2002, rising to 49.7 per cent in 2017.

The researchers estimated that across Britain, sedentary behaviours rose by 22.5 per cent during the time frame studied.

They suggested that there could be a number of factors at play, including longer work commute durations, a greater number of “labour saving devices” both at home and work, inequalities which mean people are living in areas which have a “lack of support for active lifestyles” and both work and leisure activities being “related to technology”.

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Corresponding author Xian Mayo Mauriz said: “Sitting for more than four-and-a-half hours per day is associated with an increased risk of suffering from illnesses such as heart disease.

“Our research indicates that the prevalence of sedentary behaviour has increased across Europe and this could have significant implications for the health of all European states.

“We propose that the observed increase in the prevalence of physical inactivity could be attributed to people increasingly interacting with technology such as smartphones and streaming services during work and leisure time.

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“Our findings suggest that in addition to encouraging physical activity, governments should focus on reducing the amount of time people spend sitting per day.”

It comes as a separate study projected that childhood obesity could lead to a rise in cases of multiple sclerosis (MS).

Researchers at Queen Mary University London said that obesity in childhood has previously been linked to the condition as they projected the impact of childhood obesity in coming years.

Previous research estimated that half of MS risk is attributable to environmental factors including obesity and smoking.


The study, published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, estimated that by 2035, 10 per cent of cases in Britain will be attributable to childhood obesity.

Reader Q&A: Do the benefits of exercise wear off as your body gets used to it?

Asked by: Tim Harrison, via email

The benefits definitely diminish, but not because you get used to the exercise – it’s because your fitness level gets closer to the optimal level. Your strength and endurance can’t increase indefinitely, for a variety of biological limits. Your muscles have a maximum size that is strongly affected by genetics, and the same is true of the strength of your tendons and the oxygen-carrying capacity of your lungs.

Sustained exercise at high levels (such as running more than 48 kilometres per week) has actually been shown to have a negative impact on your long-term health, causing permanent damage to the muscle fibres and nerves in the heart. A 2013 study of over 52,000 cross-country skiers found that those who had completed the most races had the highest chance of suffering heart rhythm problems.

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Alexander McNamaraOnline Editor, BBC Science Focus

Alexander is the former Online Editor at BBC Science Focus.