Don’t let death catch you sitting down

January 28, 2010 by  
Filed under Featured, HEART AND STROKE

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Sedentary behavior does not only increase the risk for cardiovascular disorders, it also increases the overall risk for death not necessarily due to heart disease, according to Australian researchers. And sedentary behavior in this research was equated to sitting down in front of the TV.

The researchers followed up 8,800 people for about 6 years in terms of “screen time” and their overall health. The results showed that those who watched TV for more than four hours each day has:

  • 46% higher likelihood of dying from any cause
  • 80% higher likelihood of dying from cardiovascular disease compared to people who spend less than two hours a day in front of the TV.
  • For each hour each day spent in front of the TV, the risk of death from any cause increases by 11% and death from cardiovascular disease by 18%. A heightened risk for death from cancer wasn’t statistically significant, but the other findings held up even after adjusting not only for exercise, but for such risk factors as age, gender and waist circumference.

The researchers claim it is the long periods of inactivity that do the damage and no amount of working out or doing sports can undo the damage or decrease the risks.

According to study leader David Dunstan, a researcher at Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute, Melbourne:

“It’s not the sweaty type of exercise we’re losing. It’s the incidental moving around, walking around, standing up and utilizing muscles that [doesn’t happen] when we’re plunked on a couch in front of a television.”

So what does amount to being sedentary or inactive?

It is the act of sitting down for long periods of time. When you are not on feet moving around and using your muscles, then you are sedentary.

The researchers focused on time spent in front of the tube because it is the favourite past time in many countries. In the US, for example, a Nielsen study revealed that Americans spend, on average 151 hours per month watching TV during the autumn-winter months of the 2008. This is equivalent to more than five hours a day of screen time.

Aside from TV time however, there are many other instances that amount to being sedentary. While sitting here and typing this post, for example, I am sedentary. The long periods of time we spend behind our desk or the wheel of a car, sitting down in a coffee shop,or reading by the pool, travelling by train or by plane, these are moments of being sedentary.

So what is wrong with being sedentary?

Dr. Dunstan explains that muscle movement is important in the metabolism of sugar and fats.

“The absence of movement can slow down our metabolic processes. When we’re sitting down or even lying on the couch, we’re burning the equivalent of the energy we burn when we’re sleeping.”

Another researcher, Dr. Marc Hamilton of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge says that after just a few hours of inactivity, an enzyme called lipoprotein lipase shuts down. This enzyme is responsible fortaking fat out of the blood to be transported and burned down in the muscles. Its absence leads fat accumulation in the blood stream, which will lead to damage of the blood vessels and the heart.

What about the 30-minute daily session on the treadmill or the twice-a-week soccer practice? Well, apparently this is not enough. Let us think. How much of our waking hours (16 hours!) do we spend on physical exercise? On being sedentary? Can our 30-minute morning jog make up for 8 or more hours sitting behind the desk? Apparently not.

Dr. Dunstan explains:

“The implication of these findings is that the extraordinary amount of sitting can undo the good effects that we know are a benefit when we get regular exercise.”

So in a nutshell, if we want to live longer, we should spend less time sitting down. Instead, let’s get moving. Anything helps. Here are some tips to reduce sedentary time while performing our routine daily tasks.

  • Stand up and stretch regularly when working in front of the computer. Move your legs from time to time.
  • Place the printer away from the computer so that you are forced to stand up to pick up your print outs.
  • When watching TV, do some other activity in parallel, such as ironing or folding the laundry.
  • Do not use the remote control. Stand up to change channels.
  • When driving long stretches, take regular breaks and walk.
  • When taking the train, try standing during the whole or part of the trip.

Can you add anything to the list?

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NOTE: The contents in this blog are for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or a substitute for professional care. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional before making changes to any existing treatment or program. Some of the information presented in this blog may already be out of date.

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