Studies have long suggested that sitting for extended periods increases the risk of Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and death, but new research from Toronto indicates that even regular exercise may not be enough to offset the health risks of excessive sitting.
The average person spends more than half of his day sitting. To further clarify the association between sedentary time and various health risks, the researchers analyzed a total of 47 studies that looked at the amount of time participants spent sitting, the amount of time they spent exercising, and their health outcomes. They discovered that those who those who reported spending the most time sitting were more likely to be diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and a variety of cancers (including breast, colon, and ovarian cancers) and were also 24% more likely to die over the course of the studies than those who spent the least amount of time sitting.
The researchers did find, however, that the health risks associated with sitting are significantly reduced in those who exercise more, and they intend to investigate how much exercise may be needed to fully offset the health impact of sedentary time.
“Avoiding sedentary time and getting regular exercise are both important for improving your health and survival,” notes study author David A. Alter, MD, PhD. “It is not good enough to exercise for 30 minutes a day and be sedentary for 23 1/2 hours.”
To reduce the amount of time spent sitting by two to three hours in a 12-hour period, the researchers recommend first monitoring the amount of time you spend sitting, then setting achievable goals for reducing this amount, such as standing up and moving for one to three minutes every half hour at work and standing or exercising during commercials while watching television.
Future studies will investigate what activities beyond physical activity can help counteract the health risks of sitting.
For more information, read the article “Sitting Increases Disease Risk…and Exercise May Not Reduce It” or see the study’s abstract in The Annals of Internal Medicine. And for more information about ways to increase your active time, click here.
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Diane Fennell: Diane Fennell has been an editor at Diabetes Self-Management magazine since 2003. She is currently the Editorial Director. (Diane Fennell is not a medical professional.)
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