Effects of prolonged sitting on heart health

Effects of prolonged sitting on heart health"

Fast Facts

Replacing sitting with moderate-intensity exercise can significantly improve heart health

Sitting for more than 12 hours a day increases the risk of premature death by 38%

Even short bouts of movement can reduce the negative impacts of prolonged sitting.

Sedentary behavior affects sugar metabolism, bone health hormones, and muscle strength.

Regularly opting for a few minutes of movement instead of prolonged sitting can significantly enhance heart health, according to a new study.1

Many adults have jobs that require them to be sedentary for large parts of the day. However, even small amounts of physical activity can make a positive difference in overall well-being.

The Impact of Sitting on Heart Health

New research from University College London, published in the European Heart Journal, indicates that replacing sitting with a few minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each day can significantly improve heart health.1 Conversely, sitting for long periods can negatively impact your heart and increase the risk of death.1

To understand this, researchers built a model to determine the effects of swapping one behavior for another over a week. The model analyzed data from various studies, showing that, for instance, a 54-year-old woman who replaced 30 minutes of sitting with moderate exercise could not only improve her heart health but also decrease her waist circumference by 2.5 cm (a 2.7% decrease).1

Previous Research on Sedentary Lifestyle Risks

This research is not the first to investigate the negative impact of sitting on health and ways to offset these risks. Earlier this year, another study found that people who spend more than 12 hours a day sitting have a 38% increased risk of death if they don’t get at least 22 minutes of exercise each day.2

“For those sitting more than 12 hours per day, [we found] there was an increased risk of premature death,” said Edvard Sagelv, PhD, a researcher at the Arctic University of Norway and co-author of the study. “Sitting affects our heart negatively like activity affects it positively. The heavier your heart beats, the better your heart health is, or the stronger your heart is.”

How Sitting Impacts Well-Being

The main issue with sitting is that it displaces time when you should be moving around, explained Sebastien Chastin, PhD, professor of health behavior dynamics at Glasgow Caledonian University. When this happens, several physiological processes are affected.

“We know also that the physiology of how our body processes sugar is affected [by sitting],” Chastin said. “There also is some evidence that the hormones involved in bone health are affected.”

Sitting can also lead to muscle weakness and imbalances, particularly in the core and legs, noted John Gallucci Jr., MS, ATC, PT, DPT, CEO of JAG Physical Therapy. “Sitting for a prolonged period can result in poor posture, reduced blood circulation, weight gain, and obesity,” he explained.

Sagelv added that much of this is related to metabolism. “Sitting tells the body that the demand is not high, so it does not need to be that strong. The liver and the energy systems in the muscles slow down, and we are not able to burn all the energy from food that we eat. So, the body performs poorer in burning energy.”

Neurological Concerns

Prolonged sitting has also been linked to neurological issues. One study found that being sedentary for 10 hours or more each day is associated with an increased risk of dementia, partly due to decreased blood flow to the brain and increased inflammation.

Recommendations for Reducing Sitting Time

While there is no conclusive evidence on how much sitting is safe, Chastin advises minimizing sitting time as much as possible. “With the data we have currently, we estimate that two to three minutes of moderate exercise per hour of sitting is a good balance,” Chastin said. The more you sit, the more you need to move to mitigate health risks.

A 2021 study led by Chastin found that people who sit for long periods might require 40 minutes of daily, moderate to vigorous physical activity for a 30% reduction in all-cause mortality risk. Alternatively, those who sit for six hours a day might need only five minutes of moderate exercise for the same benefit.

Combatting the Effects of Sitting

The single most important action to counteract the effects of sitting is to incorporate more movement into your daily routine, Chastin explained. This can be challenging as it often requires changing lifestyle and work habits.

“Technology can help with prompts to remind us to stand or move, but we have seen that the effect tends to fade with time,” Chastin said. “Take any opportunity to move and have fun, and stay away from screens as much as possible.”

He also emphasized the importance of sleep, which can increase energy levels for physical activities. Engaging in household chores or activities can also help; about seven minutes of light activity is equivalent to one minute of moderate exercise in terms of health benefits.

For those short on time, Sagelv suggests high-intensity movements for shorter durations. “Even some movement is good for your risk of death, meaning it will help you live longer,” he said.

Practical Tips for Increasing Movement

To build activity into your day, set an alarm to do a brief exercise, such as jumping jacks, every hour.1 Using a standing desk can help incorporate movement into your workday. Standing during meetings, walking while on phone calls, exercising during lunch breaks, and stretching throughout the day can also reduce stiffness and improve health.

“The key is not just to reduce sitting time but to promote a healthy lifestyle through consistent physical activity,” Gallucci said. “Engage in regular aerobic exercise, strength training, and stretching. Take short breaks and maintain good posture when sitting.”

Summary

Overall, the evidence strongly supports reducing sedentary time and increasing physical activity to improve heart health and reduce the risk of premature death. By making small changes to incorporate more movement into daily routines, individuals can significantly enhance their well-being and longevity

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