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Research focuses on sedentary lifestyle of students

Regularly playing sport or going to the gym might not be enough to counter the negative effects of a generally sedentary lifestyle, according to a University of the Sunshine Coast researcher.

Master of Science student Casey Sutherland, 28, is working to develop an intervention aimed specifically at university students to encourage them to move around more throughout the day rather than relying solely on isolated bursts of activity like a once-daily workout.

“There’s been lots of research done and interventions developed around sedentary behaviour for office workers and children, but nothing on university students which is a huge group of over a million people in Australia,” she said.

Casey said many people assume that if they are physically active they are not at risk from a sedentary lifestyle.

“You can do your 30 minutes of exercise per day but still be sedentary for the majority of the time if you’re sitting at a computer or in lectures or at home watching TV or reading a book,” she said.

“Sedentary behaviour has similar risk factors to being physically inactive, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity and many other health problems. Existing research suggests that people at least stand up every 30 to 45 minutes, and preferably walk around.”

Casey, who has already completed a combined degree in Arts and Science majoring in Psychology and Sport and Exercise Science and a Master of Health Promotion at USC, plans to pursue a PhD and a career in health research, specialising in physical activity or obesity.

“I hope to develop an intervention that we could trial at USC first that encourages people to stand up during lectures, or if they’re working on a computer in the library perhaps an alarm to remind them to stand up,” she said.

“Computer workstations where people stand up are better for your health than sitting down. USC does have some of those spaces for staff at the moment. If more people understood the benefits and would use them, perhaps we should look at getting more.”

Casey will share her early findings with USC’s Cluster for Health Improvement – a group established to foster innovative applied health research and translate it into practice on issues that enhance quality of life for people and the sustainability of communities.

Casey’s supervisors are Professor of Occupational Therapy Marion Gray, Lecturer in Health Promotion Dr Rachel Cole and Lecturer in Statistics Dr Mary Kynn.

— Jane Cameron

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