Continuous Sitting for Most of the Day May Increase Mortality Risk

Faith Castro
September 12, 2017

A new study has found that people with desk jobs are nearly twice as likely to die younger, with researchers calling prolonged sitting "the new smoking". They examined data from the 2003-2004 and 2005-2006 cohorts of the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which included 3,141 community-dwelling adults aged 50 years or older.

The study showed that on average people were sedentary for an alarming 12.3 hours of the 16 they were awake on a given day.

The study, published in Annals of Internal Medicine, found that adults who sit for one to two hours at a time without moving have a higher mortality rate than adults who acquire the same amount of sedentary time in shorter lengths.

The researchers warn that sitting down is risky, full stop - but making the effort to get up is "the least risky", the researchers write. But for every 30 minutes of sedentary time, the researchers found that the likelihood of death among the study participants increased by about 19 percent. As your total sitting time increases, so does your risk of an early death.

"Outcomes of this study indicate what other studies have found and that is the more sedentary we are, the greater the health risk", agreed Connie Diekman, MEd, RD, of Washington University in St Louis. During the study period, the team recorded 340 total deaths considered "all-cause mortality" - any death, regardless of cause.

What's more, factors such as smoking status and blood pressure were only captured once, and the activity trackers were only worn over one week, meaning that changes in the health or behaviour of participants over time was not taken into account.

Those with greater sitting time had: A almost 50% increased risk of death from any cause and about a 125% increased risk of events associated with cardiovascular disease, such as chest pain (angina) or heart attack.

He also explained that sitting for long periods can cause blood to pool in the legs and that the combination of blood pooling, decreased blood flow, and turbulent blood flow is believed to be conducive to the development of plaque formation in the blood vessels.

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"Many previous studies have relied on self-reported assessments of sitting time, whereas this study was better able to objectively quantify the level of sedentary behavior", he told MedPage Today.

"Bout duration is a little trickier", said Diaz.

It's more than exercise, Diaz said.

Exactly how prolonged sitting might be related to an increased risk of early death isn't known, he added.

The team then looked at the interaction between the two measures of inactivity, finding the risk of death was greater for those who had both high overall levels of inactivity (12.5 hours a day or more) and long average bouts of sedentary behaviour (10 minutes or more), than for those who had high levels of just one of the measures. "The longer the duration of sitting, the more negative the impact on our cardiovascular health".

"The first time we do this, the positive effects are immediate", she said.

Asked if, say, a standing desk might be helpful for those who work desk jobs, Diaz said "there is limited evidence to suggest that standing is a healthier alternative to sitting". "If you have a job or lifestyle where you have to sit for prolonged periods, our findings suggest that taking a movement break every half hour could reduce your risk of death". "Our findings suggest this one behavior change could reduce your risk of death".

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