Sedentary behaviours explained
Woman on a couch watching TV

This article is part of a series in collaboration with ParticipACTION. Discover how "Everything gets better when you get active!"


Reading in bed, watching TV on the sofa, playing video games, driving, scrolling online, sitting at a desk for work — all of these represent sedentary behaviours. In short, anything you do from a seated, lying or reclining position with little or no movement is considered a sedentary behaviour, as it requires using little energy to perform.

Canadians spend most of their waking hours engaged in sedentary behaviours — a habit that has far-reaching consequences for overall health and well-being. According to the 2021 ParticipACTION Report Card on Physical Activity for Adults, adults are sitting more and pursuing more sedentary behaviours as a result of the pandemic.

Canadians are falling behind when it comes to reducing their sedentary time: only 12 per cent of adults in Canada are limiting their sedentary behaviours to under eight hours a day. During COVID-19, more than 50 per cent of adults reported an increase in their sitting time and in passive, screen-based activities. 

What’s so scary about being sedentary?

Sedentary behaviours aren’t bad in and of themselves, but too much sedentary time is associated with a range of outcomes that negatively impact our health and well-being. It’s linked to a higher risk of many illnesses and health conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, some cancers, anxiety and depression. Over time, it can also impact longevity.

What’s a healthy balance of physical activity and sedentary behaviour in a day?

Most Canadians are spending too much time being sedentary each day. According to the Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for Adults, adults should aim to keep their seated, lying and reclining time to under eight hours a day if possible and limit recreational screen time to three hours a day. 

When it comes to moving, it’s recommended that Canadians do around 20 minutes a day or 150 minutes a week of moderate-to-vigorous (heart-pumping and sweat-inducing) physical activity, as well as two 30-minute strength training sessions a week. As well, most adults should aim to engage in several hours of light physical activity throughout the day, such as simple standing activities, household chores or leisurely walking.

How can we break up or reduce our sedentary time?

•       Take stretch breaks during working hours.

•       Schedule walking meetings or take phone calls on the go.

•       Consider using a standing desk or a desk that you can adjust for seated and standing work.

•       Set a timer to break up long bouts of sedentary time with short one- to three-minute bursts of movement.

•       Set firm screen time limits and stick to them.

•       Designate screen-free zones in your home, like the bedroom or dining table, and avoid multi-screen use such as scrolling on your phone while watching TV.

•       Set an activity goal. Start by swapping out one sedentary activity per week for an active one.

•       If you’re in a funk, get moving! Breaking up sedentary time with movement is linked to a positive change in mood.


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