Offset the health risks of your desk job by exercising whenever you can
10/15/2019 // Darnel Fernandez // Views

Most jobs nowadays involve an excessive amount of sitting down (and staring into a screen). This type of sedentary lifestyle – a lifestyle with little to no physical activity – has been linked to a number of health concerns like obesity. So how do you resolve this issue?

Get moving. In a study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, researchers found that replacing sitting with physical activity, such as walking, can reduce all-cause mortality (ACM) and cardiovascular disease (CVD) mortality risk.

Get physical

Researchers from the American College of Cardiology examined the associations of sitting and physical activity with all-cause and CVD mortality risk. Additionally, they observed and estimated the effects of replacing sitting with standing, physical activity, and sleep on mortality risk.

"Previous studies have not considered that a 24-hour day is finite and an increase in any type of physical activity or sedentary behavior would displace another activity or sleep," said Emmanuel Stamatakis, Ph.D., lead author of the paper.

In this study, 149,077 Australian men and women were asked to complete a questionnaire that determined the number of hours an individual spent standing, sitting, and sleeping. The participants were also asked about the total time spent walking or doing other physical activities.

After a median follow-up of 8.9 years for ACM and 7.9 years for CVD mortality, high sitting hours (more than six hours) were directly associated with a higher ACM and CVD mortality risks, but only in those who did not meet the lowest physical activity recommendations. Across all groups who did meet the lowest recommendation, researchers noted that only those who did excessive sitting (more than eight hours) saw increased risk in both ACM and CVD mortality.


"Our results support continued efforts to promote physical activity in those segments of the population that sit a lot for whatever reason," said Stamatakis. "In the absence of some physical activity, merely reducing sitting times may be insufficient for better health."

The study also noted a difference between standing and doing other physical activities. Only low sitters saw a risk reduction when replacing sitting with standing. On the other hand, high sitters saw a consistent reduction in mortality risk when replacing sitting with physical activity.

"A possible explanation for this is that among the most sedentary participants, standing may not be sufficient for reducing health risks," Stamatakis said. "Instead, substituting sitting for brisk walking may be a better option that is feasible by a majority of adults."

The researchers saw very little evidence for the replacement effects of sitting with sleeping among low sleepers (less than seven hours a day). In contrast, large increases in ACM risk were observed in high sleepers (more than seven hours a day).

In an accompanying editorial comment, Charles Matthews, Ph.D., physical activity epidemiologist and investigator at the National Cancer Institute, emphasized that "it is more important than ever to attend to our daily physical activity and sitting time to try to optimize both behaviors for better health."

The bottom line of the study is that the more you sit, the more physical activity you should aim to implement in your daily life. As established, sitting is linked to a variety of health concerns, which gives you more than enough reason to get up and get physical. (Related: Sitting for extended periods doubles risks from diabetes, heart disease, and early death.)

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