March 26, 2012 -- Don't take this sitting down, but spending too much time in a chair is bad for your health -- really, really bad.
New research published in the Archives of Internal Medicine shows that people who spend a lot of time sitting may be up to 40% more likely to die from any cause, compared to people who don't sit as long.
The study tracked nearly 222,500 Australian adults for about three years. During that time, people's odds of dying dovetailed with how much time they spent sitting.
Compared to people who spent less than four hours per day sitting, the odds of dying were:
15% higher for people who sat for at least eight hours
40% higher for people who sat for 11 or more hours a day
“Our findings add to the mounting evidence that public health programs should focus not just on increasing population physical activity levels, but also on reducing sitting time,” the researchers write.
Alpa V. Patel, PhD, has published studies on the health risks associated with too much sitting. She is an epidemiologist at the American Cancer Society in Atlanta. “We are continuing to demonstrate time and time again in different populations that there is something real to the association between sitting time and reduced longevity.”
What's so bad about sitting for long periods? That's not totally clear. But exercise and movement do have a positive effect on blood fats called triglycerides and other heart risks, and improves blood pressure, Patel says.
Her advice: Sit for five fewer minutes per hour. “Small changes can have a big impact," she says.
Technology may fight that. It's given us fewer reasons to move, says David A. Friedman, MD. He is the chief of heart failure services at North Shore Plainview Hospital in Plainview, N.Y.
Instead of texting or emailing a colleague, “walk down a few cubicles and say, ‘Hi, how are you?’ This is good face time and it’s also good exercise.”
Olveen Carrasquillo, MD, MPH, is the chief of the division of general internal medicine at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine. “A sedentary lifestyle is not good for your health,” he says. “Today we don’t even have to leave the house to go to the bank or mail a letter.”
The new study doesn't prove that sitting killed people. It's not clear which came first -- poorer health or spending more time in a chair.
Still, there's no doubt that movement is good for many reasons.
“It is hard to say whether someone is fairly sedentary because they are inactive or if they are inactive because of other things, such as an unhealthy lifestyle that includes smoking," says Scott Kahan, MD, MPH. He is the director of the National Center for Weight and Wellness in Washington, D.C.
Still, there is no doubt that being active is healthy. “The key is to do something you like to do, whether it’s sports, going to the gym, walking, or gardening. “If it is terribly unenjoyable, the likelihood of sustaining it is pretty low.”