Sitting still or lying down during waking leisure time is linked to a higher risk of having a stroke in younger adults with lower levels of physical activity, according to a new analysis published in the journal Stroke.
The study authors noted that the relationship between physical activity and stroke risk is well established — getting more exercise is linked to a lower risk of having a stroke. But less is known about the relationship between sedentary leisure time and the risk of having a stroke. It’s important to look at sedentary time separately from physical activity because people can do a wide range of activities — such as going to work, doing errands, or doing moderately active hobbies or chores like cooking or woodworking — that don’t count as either exercise or being sedentary. For the latest analysis, the researchers were interested in looking at how both activity levels and sedentary time affected the risk of having a stroke, and whether this risk varied by age.
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The study group was 143,180 people who were tracked for nine years as part of the Canadian Community Health Survey. Based on surveys completed as part of the study, these participants were grouped as having different amounts of sedentary leisure time each day — less than four hours, four to less than six hours, six to less than eight hours, or eight hours or more. The researchers looked at hospital records to determine which participants had a stroke during the follow-up period.
Sedentary time linked to increased stroke risk in those under 60
Overall, there were 2,965 stroke events recorded during the follow-up period, which happened an average of 5.6 years after participants completed their survey. The researchers found a “three-way relationship” between sedentary leisure time, physical activity, and age when it came to the risk of having a stroke. This means that the relationship between sedentary time and stroke risk wasn’t seen across all participants. Instead, it was seen only in participants younger than 60 years old at the start of the study, who fell in the bottom 25% for physical activity among all participants. Within this group, having at least eight hours each day of sedentary leisure time was linked to 4.5 times the risk of having a stroke, compared with those who had the least sedentary leisure time.
The researchers found that this link remained significant even after adjusting for many different factors among participant, such as demographic or social differences (like income and where you live) as well as clinical differences like cardiovascular health and mood disorders. This is important because certain factors might influence both how much time a person spends sedentary, as well as the risk of having a stroke — without sedentary time actually affecting stroke risk. Based on the available data, it appears that sedentary leisure time is independently linked to stroke risk after age and physical activity are accounted for.
The researchers noted that these results emphasize the important of physical activity, as well as avoiding excess sedentary time, in younger adults as a way to reduce the risk of having a stroke. One limitation of the study is that it didn’t ask about job-related sedentary time, so actual total sedentary time could have been much greater in people who work desk jobs.
“Sedentary time is increasing in the United States and Canada,” said study author Raed A. Joundi, MD, a stroke fellow at the University of Calgary in Canada, in a press release. “Physician recommendations and public health policies should emphasize increased physical activity and lower sedentary time among young adults in combination with other healthy habits to lower the risks of cardiovascular events and stroke.”
Want to learn more about exercising with diabetes? Read “Add Movement to Your Life,” “Picking the Right Activity to Meet Your Fitness Goals” and “Seven Ways to Have Fun Exercising.”