New dictionary defines healthy living

Posted on Monday, June 12, 2017

Pictures showing young girl eating watermelon, teens on computers and tablets, a young girl playing baseball and a young boy holding a soccer ball

Ottawa-led team builds worldwide consensus on healthy living research terminology

Sedentary lifestyle. Physical activity. Screen time. These words have made it into everyday conversation, but what do they actually mean and do they mean the same to everyone? In the rapidly growing field of health science, reaching consensus on the exact definition of these words is crucial. Now, a worldwide network of scientists examining the links between sedentary lifestyles and health problems such as obesity and cardiovascular disease has created a dictionary of terms to assist with research into sedentary behaviour.

“This is the world’s most extensive agreement to date on consensus definitions for researchers examining sedentary behaviour, an emerging global public health priority,” said lead author Dr. Mark Tremblay, director of the Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Group (HALO) at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute (CHEO RI) and a professor at the University of Ottawa. “There is an urgent need for clear, common and accepted terminology worldwide to facilitate the interpretation and comparison of research. We have made tremendous progress by defining terms such as physical inactivity, stationary behaviour, sedentary behaviour and screen time. These terms have already been translated into several languages for rapid global uptake.”

HALO researchers Dr. Mark Tremblay, Salomé Aubert and Joel Barnes demonstrate “reclining”, “lying” and “sitting”.

HALO researchers Dr. Mark Tremblay, Salomé Aubert and Joel Barnes demonstrate “reclining”, “lying” and “sitting”.

The dictionary project, led by the CHEO RI’s Sedentary Behaviour Research Network, provides specific definitions adjusted to groups such babies, young children and people with chronic disease or mobility impairment. It also indicates how terms like “bouts,” “breaks” and “interruptions” should be defined and measured to assess sedentary behaviour and health outcomes.

The team considered the importance of energy expenditure and posture as they apply to movement over a 24-hour period, including physical activity and sleep. Thus, the dictionary makes a distinction between active and passive sitting, active and passive standing, sedentary and stationary behaviour, and screen time and non-screen-based sedentary time. Sedentary behaviour for a baby may include sitting in a car seat with minimal movement while for a toddler it may mean watching TV while sitting, reclining or lying down.

The 84 network co-authors hail from 20 countries and include researchers, trainees, graduate students, health practitioners and government employees. They agree that standardizing the healthy living terminology is crucial to advancing future research, especially since this rapidly growing field of health science involves a mix of researchers from different fields, and a global network of practitioners and industries.

 “Our hope is that this dictionary will reduce confusion and advance research related to sedentary behaviour and, ultimately, promote healthy active living,” says Tremblay.


  • Age 1 to 4: fewer than 180 minutes of physical activity/day.
  • Age 5-17 years: fewer than 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous-intensity physical activity per day.
  • Age 18+: fewer than 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per week / less than 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity per week or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity.

Read the full news release

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