Most of us sit for long periods of time on a daily basis at work, for meals and while commuting. On top of all this sitting, we spend an additional one to two hours watching TV, lounging (i.e, reading), or on our home computer seated. A new study published in the journal Lancet found 4 percent of deaths worldwide are attributed to the "chair effect" — sitting for more than three hours a day.

"It is important to minimise sedentary behaviour in order to prevent premature deaths around the world," said Leandro Rezende, lead author of the study and a researcher at the University of Sao Paulo (Brazil), in a statement.

Sitting has become the new smoking. Previous research suggests the excessive amount of time we spend sitting down may increase the risk of death, regardless of whether or not we exercise. Even if we do half an hour or an hour of exercise every day, it's not enough to reverse the damage if we're sitting for most of the day. Sitting for prolonged periods of time has been linked to an increased risk for heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and early death. Staying seated for eight to 12 hours or more a day also increases our risk of developing Type 2 diabetes by 90 percent.

Rezende and his colleagues found the highest rates of death were in the Western Pacific, followed by parts of Europe, the Eastern Mediterranean region, America and Southeast Asia. By country, the highest rates were found in Lebanon (11.6 percent), the Netherlands (7.6 percent), and Denmark (6.9 percent), while the lowest rates were in Mexico (0.6 per cent), Myanmar (1.3 percent), and Bhutan (1.6 percent). Spain falls within the average range with 3.7 percent of deaths, with Canada and the U.S. both above the average with 4.7 percent and 4.2 percent of deaths respectively.

Our lifestyle has an impact on these numbers, especially when 31 percent of the worldwide population does not meet the current recommendations for physical activity. Insufficient physical activity is one of the 10 leading risk factors for global mortality, according to the World Health Organization. These people have a 20 to 30 percent increased risk of all-cause mortality, compared to those who engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity per week, or equivalent.

Rezende and his team say sedentary behavior should be minimized to prevent premature deaths worldwide. Interestingly, fidgeting has been found to counteract the effects of prolonged sitting. Intricate body movements can also help, although researchers don’t exactly know why. Meanwhile, office workers have turned to standing desks or taking regular walks to offset the negative effects of sitting all day.

Other initiatives that can be taken include simply reducing our sitting time. Shortening it by two hours would result in a 2.3 percent decrease in risk of mortality, according to the researchers. Even a reduction of just 10 percent, or half an hour a day, could reduce mortality by 0.6 percent.

Simply put: Spending less time sitting will inevitably lower our risk of premature death.

Source: Rezende LFM, Sa TH, Mielke GI et al. All-Cause Mortality Attributable to Sitting Time. Lancet. 2016.