Our entire modern world is constructed to keep you sitting down. When we drive, we sit. When we work at an office, we sit. When we watch TV, well, you get the picture.
A new study published in Annals of Internal Medicine looked at the habits of nearly 8,000 adults and found that the amount of time participants spent sitting was directly correlated with their risk of early death. And yes, that’s even the case if you exercise regularly.
Unfortunately, in the modern world, many of us have to sit. It’s 2017, and our jobs typically require us to hunch over a computer rather than spend our days hunting and gathering. As alarming as this study is, there is some good news that comes out of it: If you move every 30 minutes, your mortality risk is significantly lower.
Experts are now describing sitting as ‘the new smoking’, a ticking time bomb of ill health just waiting to explode.
“Sit less, move more” is what the American Heart Association encourages all of us to do. But this simplistic guideline doesn’t quite cut it, said Keith Diaz, lead author of the new study and an associate research scientist in the Columbia University Department of Medicine.
“This would be like telling someone to just ‘exercise’ without telling them how,” Diaz wrote in an email.
“We think a more specific guideline could read something like, ‘For every 30 consecutive minutes of sitting, stand up and move/walk for five minutes at brisk pace to reduce the health risks from sitting,’ ” he said, adding the study “puts us a step closer to such guidelines,” but more research is needed to verify the findings.
“As we age, and our physical and mental function declines, we become more and more sedentary,” wrote Diaz.
Diaz and his co-researchers tracked for an average of four years 7,985 black and white adult participants, age 45 or older, who had signed on to participate in the REasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke (REGARDS) project, a study sponsored by the National Institutes of Health.
To measure sedentary time for these adults, the research team used hip-mounted accelerometers. During the study period, the team recorded 340 total deaths considered “all-cause mortality” – any death, regardless of cause.
Analyzing the data, the team found that sedentary behavior, on average, accounted for about 12.3 hours of an average 16-hour waking day.
As total sedentary time increased, so did early death by any cause, the results indicated. And the same was true for longer sitting stretches. Overall then, participants’ risk of death grew in tandem with total sitting time and sitting stretch duration – no matter their age, sex, race, body mass index or exercise habits.
Diaz said, the study results indicate that those who frequently sat in stretches less than 30 minutes had a 55% lower risk of death compared to people who usually sat for more than 30 minutes at a stretch.
Finally, people who frequently sat for more than 90 minutes at a stretch had a nearly two-fold greater risk of death than those who almost always sat for less than 90 minutes at a stretch, he said.