Sitting as a moral practice: older adults’ accounts from qualitative interviews on sedentary behaviours

Victoria J. Palmer, Cindy M. Gray*, Claire Fitzsimons, Nanette Mutrie, Sally Wyke, Geoff Der, Sebastien F.M. Chastin, Dawn A. Skelton, Seniors USP Team

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
61 Downloads (Pure)


Amidst public health campaigns urging people to sit less as well as being more physically active, this paper investigates how older adults make sense of their sedentary behaviour. Using an accounts framework focusing on how people rationalise their sitting practices, we analysed data from 44 qualitative interviews with older adults. All interviewees had received information about sedentary behaviour and health, visual feedback on their own objectively measured sitting over a week and guidance on sitting less. Participants used accounts to position sitting as a moral practice, distinguishing between ‘good’ (active/‘busy’) and ‘bad’ (passive/‘not busy’) sitting. This allowed them to align themselves with acceptable (worthwhile) forms of sitting and distance themselves from other people whose sitting they viewed as less worthwhile. However, some participants also described needing to sit more as they got older. The findings suggest that some public health messaging may lead to stigmatisation around sitting. Future sedentary behaviour guidelines and public health campaigns should consider more relatable guidelines that consider the lived realities of ageing, and the individual and social factors that shape them. They should advocate finding a balance between sitting and moving that is appropriate for each person.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2102-2120
Number of pages19
JournalSociology of Health and Illness
Issue number9
Early online date1 Nov 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2021


  • seniors USP
  • sedentary behaviour
  • sitting
  • moral practice
  • older adults
  • qualitative
  • views

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health Policy


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