Sitting risks: How harmful is too much sitting?
What are the risks of sitting too much?
Researchers have linked sitting for long periods of time with a number of health concerns, including obesity and metabolic syndrome — a cluster of conditions that includes increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol levels.
Too much sitting also seems to increase the risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer.
One recent study compared adults who spent less than two hours a day in front of the TV or other screen-based entertainment with those who logged more than four hours a day of recreational screen time. Those with greater screen time had:
A nearly 50 percent increased risk of death from any cause
About a 125 percent increased risk of events associated with cardiovascular disease, such as chest pain (angina) or heart attack
The increased risk was separate from other traditional risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as smoking or high blood pressure.
Sitting in front of the TV isn’t the only concern. Any extended sitting — such as behind a desk at work or behind the wheel — can be harmful. What’s more, spending a few hours a week at the gym or otherwise engaged in moderate or vigorous activity doesn’t seem to significantly offset the risk.
Rather, the solution seems to be less sitting and more moving overall. You might start by simply standing rather than sitting whenever you have the chance.
Stand while talking on the phone or eating lunch.
If you work at a desk for long periods of time, try a standing desk — or improvise with a high table or counter.
Better yet, think about ways to walk while you work:
Walk laps with your colleagues rather than gathering in a conference room for meetings.
Position your work surface above a treadmill — with a computer screen and keyboard on a stand or a specialized treadmill-ready vertical desk — so that you can be in motion throughout the day.
The impact of movement — even leisurely movement — can be profound. For starters, you’ll burn more calories. This might lead to weight loss and increased energy.
Even better, the muscle activity needed for standing and other movement seems to trigger important processes related to the breakdown of fats and sugars within the body. When you sit, these processes stall — and your health risks increase. When you’re standing or actively moving, you kick the processes back into action.
from James A. Levine, M.D., Ph.D.
Sitting for Too Long Is Bad for Your Health
Taking Even Short Breaks From Sitting Is Good for Your Heart.
We all know that regular exercise is good for our health and too much sitting isn’t ideal. Now a new study suggests it’s not just the length of time we spend sitting down but the number of times we get up during that time that can influence our health.
The study, published online in the European Heart Journal, examined the total length of time people spent sitting down and breaks taken in that time, together with various indicators of risk for heart disease, metabolic diseases such as diabetes, and inflammatory processes that can play a role in the blocking of arteries.
It suggests that plenty of breaks, even if they are as short as one minute, seem to be beneficial.
Take a Break to Slim Your Waist
The Australian research found that long periods of sitting down, even in people who did a lot of exercise otherwise, were associated with worse indicators of cardio-metabolic function and inflammation, such as larger waist circumferences, lower levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol, and higher levels of C-reactive protein (an important marker of inflammation) and triglycerides (blood fats).
However, the study also found that even in people who spent a long time sitting down, the more breaks they took during this time, the smaller their waists and the lower the levels of C-reactive protein.
Genevieve Healy, MD, from the University of Queensland led the study.
“The most significant differences were observed for waist circumference,” she says. “The top 25% of people who took the most breaks had, on average, a 4.1 cm smaller waist circumference than those in the lowest 25%.”
The dangers of being too big around the middle are well-documented.
According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, high-risk waist circumferences are:
Over 40 inches for men.
Over 35 inches for women.
Healy and her colleagues analyzed earlier U.S. data from nearly 5,000 people aged 20 and over.
The participants wore a small device called an accelerometer, which monitored the amount and intensity of walking or running.
It gave researchers information on sedentary time and breaks in sedentary time.
Small Changes Help
“The potential adverse health impact of prolonged sitting (which is something that we do on average for more than half of our day), is only just being realized,” Healy says. “Our research highlights the importance of considering prolonged sedentary time as a distinct health risk behavior that warrants explicit advice in future public health guidelines.”
The study suggests even small changes could help, like standing up to take phone calls, walking to see a colleague rather than phoning or emailing, and centralizing trash cans and printers so you have to walk to them.
Amy Thompson, Senior Cardiac Nurse at the British Heart Foundation, says in a statement, “This study was a very interesting read and adds to well established evidence that long periods of inactivity are not good for the heart.
“If you’re sitting for long periods it’s really important you take regular breaks by getting up on your feet. Regular physical activity is essential to protect cardiovascular health.”
By Siobhan Harris
WebMD Health News Reviewed by Keith Barnard, MD
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