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Apr 09, 2013

Sitting Increases Heart Disease Risk Regardless of Physical Activity

Activity and exercise are essential for health, but sitting for extended periods takes its toll nonetheless.

As we spend more time sedentary—sitting in the car, at a desk, in front of a TV—concerns grow about how inactivity affects our health. Research has already suggested that time spent sitting increases risk for heart disease, even if we exercise on a regular basis. A recent study confirms these findings, particularly in women.

This study utilized data from the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study (WHI-OS), which followed more than 93,600 women ages 50 to 79 years old for about eight years. Based on periodic surveys and clinic visits completed by study participants, researchers found that women sitting 10 hours a day or more had significantly greater risk for heart disease, heart attack and stroke compared to women sitting 5 hours a day or less, regardless of how much they exercised. However, cardiovascular risk was greatest among women who reported sitting 10 or more hours a day and got little to no physical activity. Researchers also found that prolonged sitting negatively impacted heart health the most among women who were overweight or greater than 70 years old.

These findings support what many experts have feared—that our sedentary lifestyles could have a serious impact on our health down the road. Even if we get the recommended 30 minutes of physical activity most days, it doesn’t erase the consequences of sitting for long periods of time on a regular basis.

But that’s not to say that we should stop exercising. In fact, this study highlights the importance of staying active to lessen the negative effects of sitting. Sitting for long periods of time may increase cardiovascular risk, but it has less of an impact on individuals who still manage to fit activity and exercise into their schedules.

Questions for You to Consider

  • How can I reduce sedentary time?
  • Research continues to show that sedentary time increases cardiovascular risk, regardless of how much leisure time activity we may get. To help reduce sedentary time, cut back on time spent watching TV and replace it with some type of activity, like cleaning or going for a quick walk. For individuals who spend most of the day in front of a computer, get up and take a walk every hour, even if it’s just for a few minutes. Standing desks are also becoming increasingly popular, as they help reduce time spent sitting in front of the computer.
  • If I exercise regularly, should I be worried about sedentary time?
  • Although exercising regularly helps improve heart health, it doesn’t completely cancel out time spent sedentary during the rest of the day. Sitting for long periods of time each day can increase cardiovascular risk, despite leisure time activity. Therefore, minimizing the amount of time spent sitting and getting enough exercise is important to promoting heart health.

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