We all know that too little exercise can pack on the pounds and contribute to heart disease and other ills, but a new study published in the European Heart Journal on Jan. 12 shows that we can even cause ourselves harm simply by sitting for too long without moving. And what office worker doesn't spend much of the day in that position?
The study was the first to look at the heart health consequences of prolonged sitting among a large and diverse group. Researchers collated data from 4,757 participants who were all part of the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 2003 and 2006.
The subjects wore accelerometers which measure the intensity of their physical activity 14.6 hours a day for seven days. Investigators then measured waist circumference, blood pressure, cholesterol levels and C-reactive protein concentrations to determine heart health. In a subset of the group, they also measured markers of diabetes: levels of triglycerides, plasma glucose and insulin.
The results were unmistakable: prolonged sedentary periods led to larger waist sizes and higher levels of blood fats, even if subjects participated in regular sessions of moderate to rigorous exercise outside of their inactive hours. So who fared the best? Those who did both regular exercise and took breaks to stand or walk at regular intervals.
"Our research showed that even small changes, which could be as little as standing up for one minute, might help to lower this health risk," lead author Genevieve Healy, a research fellow at the University of Queensland, Australia said in a statement.
"It is likely that regular breaks in prolonged sitting time could be readily incorporated into the working environment without any detrimental impact on productivity, although this still needs to be determined by further research. 'Stand up, move more, more often' could be used as a slogan to get this message across."
But, Healy added, breaks alone aren't enough. Neglecting the regular, vigorous exercise part undoes a lot of the good standing and moving does.