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Evening sitting habits and binge-watching come under research spotlight

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Young girl watching programme on laptop - screentime

We know that performing short bouts of activity regularly throughout the day can counter some of the risks that come with sitting for prolonged periods. But we don’t yet know whether short activity breaks in the evening, while binge-watching our favourite shows, can have the same effect.

With funding announced today from the Health Research Council of New Zealand (HRC), a researcher from the University of Otago, Dr Meredith Peddie, is about to investigate what happens to blood sugar levels and sleep when people pepper their evening’s viewing with short bursts of activity.

To date, the vast majority of research into the benefits of performing regular activity breaks has focused on the work day, and yet evidence suggests that we actually accumulate our longest period of uninterrupted sitting outside of work time, in the evening, when an average adult also consumes about 45% of their daily energy intake.

“The evening is when we often eat a large meal, and then sit for long periods binge-watching shows,” says Dr Peddie. And streaming services have made it easier to sit in our chairs for longer than we used to. “There is a lot of incidental activity that has been removed from our lives that people don’t recognise,” she says.

“When we all watched ‘live TV’, we would do things in the ad breaks – get up and do the washing-up or make the kids’ lunches and then sit back down when the programme started again. But there are no breaks on streaming services such as Netflix, and when you get to the end of one episode, the next one will start right after it.”

Dr Peddie’s study will establish whether three minutes of resistance exercise every 30 minutes during prolonged screen time will improve postprandial (after eating) metabolism and sleep quality, when compared to prolonged sitting without activity.

Thirty participants will visit the research lab in the evening on two occasions, in a randomised order: on one occasion they will sit and watch Netflix uninterrupted for four hours; on the other they will perform simple resistance exercises for three minutes every 30 minutes. The effects on blood glucose, insulin and triglyceride levels after eating dinner, and the effects on sleep quality will be compared.

Dr Peddie’s previous studies have investigated the effects of interrupting daytime sitting with short bouts of activity. She says this study will extend on that work and begin to translate laboratory research findings into practical simple solutions for incorporating regular activity breaks into everyday life.

“If performing regular activity breaks in the evening is found to result in improved control of blood sugar and better sleep, then there is the potential to consult with streaming services and the makers of smart TV apps, to develop prompts to get people up and moving after 30 minutes of continuous watching,” she says. That, in turn, has the potential to reduce the risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

The Health Research Council awarded a total of $4,110,386 to 18 researchers in its 2020 Emerging Researcher round. This included funding for two researchers through the Rangahau Hauora Māori research stream as well as three Pacific emerging researchers.

One of the funded studies will explore differences between Māori when it comes to cultural connection, mainly focusing on those who do not know their Iwi; and another will aim to create a safe cultural research space for Pacific Rainbow communities to communicate their unique health and wellbeing needs.

The HRC’s chief executive, Professor Sunny Collings, says this year’s recipients represent a diverse range of fields that are important and relevant to life in Aotearoa. She adds that these grants are pivotal to sustaining a strong research workforce in New Zealand.

“Grants of this size and significance can help promising researchers establish their careers and develop an independent research stream.

“The recipients we fund in rounds like this, are likely to be the country’s future health research leaders and those whose contributions will collectively improve the lives of New Zealanders.”

See below for the full list of 2020 Emerging Researcher First Grant recipients. To read lay summaries about any of these research projects, go to and filter by proposal type ‘Emerging Researcher First Grant’ and year ‘2020’.

2020 Emerging Researcher First Grants - General

Dr Divya Adhia, University of Otago
Novel non-invasive neuromodulation treatment for chronic low back pain
36 months, $209,995

Dr Felicity Bright, Auckland University of Technology
Psychosocial wellbeing after stroke: Understanding and enhancing care
36 months, $243,087

Dr Haizal Hussaini, University of Otago
Interrogating immunotherapy for dental pulp therapy and management
36 months, $206,045

Dr Megan Leask, University of Otago
Decoding GWAS to combat renal disease in Māori and Pacific people
24 months, $249,978

Dr Joanne Lin, The University of Auckland
Low-dose naltrexone as an adjunctive treatment in major depressive disorder
36 months, $249,138

Dr Sunali Mehta, University of Otago
Comprehensive pan-cancer characterisation of uncommon TP53 mutations
24 months, $239,631

Dr Michelle Munro, University of Otago
Calsequestrin as a target to restore calcium balance in atrial fibrillation
24 months, $246,380

Dr Meredith Peddie, University of Otago
Taking a break from Netflix: The effect on glycaemia and sleep
24 months, $203,305

Dr Jacqueline Ramke, The University of Auckland
Improving equitable access to diabetes eye services
36 months, $249,238

Dr Andrew Reynolds, University of Otago
Metabolites in plasma and urine as objective markers of dietary intakes
24 months, $249,761

Dr Amy Smith, The University of Auckland
A human functional genomics approach to investigate inflammation in dementia
36 months, $245,745

Dr Hannah Waddington, Research Trust of Victoria University of Wellington
Low-intensity therapy and parent coaching for young children with ASD: An RCT.
36 months, $250,000

Dr Catherine Wall, University of Otago, Christchurch
Preoperative exclusive enteral nutrition versus usual care in Crohn's disease
24 months, $180,375

Rangahau Hauora Māori Emerging Researcher First Grants

Dr Lara Greaves, The University of Auckland
The Māori in-between? Identity, health, and social service access needs
24 months, $169,550

Dr Jade Tamatea, The University of Auckland
TAONGA – Tōku Ara OraNGA: a Kaupapa Māori informed co-design of outpatient care
36 months, $250,000

Pacific Emerging Researcher First Grants

Dr Radilaite Cammock, Auckland University of Technology
Sexual and reproductive health education among Pacific Youth
36 months, $168,655

Dr Sam Manuela, The University of Auckland
Tē 'ākirāta mārama: Cook Islands mental health prevalence
36 months, $249,512

Dr Patrick Thomsen, The University of Auckland
Manalagi: Aotearoa Pacific Rainbow/Queer/LGBTIQA+ MVPFAFF Health and Wellbeing Project
36 months, $249,980