Research continues to show that sitting down all day is bad for our health (indeed, countless standing desks have launched on the back of this knowledge), but for many, sedentary periods are simply a fact of working life. A wide-ranging new study suggests that regularly splitting up this sitting time can make a difference, with those that do so experiencing a lower risk of death.

"We tend to think of sedentary behavior as just the sheer volume of how much we sit around each day," said Keith Diaz, PhD, associate research scientist in the Department of Medicine at Columbia University Medical Center and lead investigator of the study. "But previous studies have suggested that sedentary patterns – whether an individual accrues sedentary time through several short stretches or fewer long stretches of time – may have an impact on health."

To explore this theory further, Diaz and his fellow researchers tapped into data collected by hip-mounted activity trackers worn by 7,895 adults over the age of 45. The subjects were black and white and were taking part in a US-wide national investigation on racial and regional influences on stroke. This new study is said to be the largest objectively linking sedentary time and patterns with mortality risk.

According to the data, 77 percent of the participants' waking hours was spent sitting, more than 12 hours a day. Across a median follow-up period of four years, 340 of the participants died, and the team calculated the mortality risk for the varying sedentary patterns and total sedentary time.

It found a two-fold increase in mortality in those with the most sedentary time, more than 13 hours a day with regular stints of 60 to 90 minutes at a time, compared to those who had the least sedentary time. Subjects who kept the majority of their seated periods to less than 30 minutes had the lowest risk of death.

"So if you have a job or lifestyle where you have to sit for prolonged periods of time, we suggest taking a movement break every half hour," says Diaz. "This one behavior change could reduce your risk of death, although we don't yet know precisely how much activity is optimal."

The research was published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.