You might want to stand up and walk around while reading this …
“The longer, more frequent, and more intense the breaks from inactivity, the better” — that’s the summary in The Guardian of the conclusions of a recent study on sedentary behavior. One of the co-authors of the study, Keith Diaz of Colombia University Medical Center, explained to the British newspaper the results of their work regarding people with sedentary lifestyles. Their study revealed the importance of taking frequent breaks from sitting to get up and move around. More specifically, moving your body at least every half hour could help limit the effects of working seated at a desk, and other similar sedentary lifestyles.
The study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, discovered that staying inactive for a long time during the day, and long average periods of continuous sedentary behavior, are related to a significantly increased risk of death.
Going to the gym and playing sports isn’t enough
“If you sit at work all day, if you sit at home a lot, then you should be really mindful of trying to take a break from your sitting habits as often as possible – at least every 30 minutes,” Diaz told The Guardian. “Even if you exercise, you still should be mindful of taking breaks and be moving throughout the day, because exercise is not enough to overcome the risks of sitting, and sitting in long bouts.”
The study was authored by Diaz together with seven other colleagues from institutions in the United States. Nearly 8,000 American adults aged 45 years or older participated in the study from 2009 to 2013. Unlike in previous studies, “each participant wore a fitness tracker for at least four days during a period of one week.” This makes the results more reliable than other studies that relied on self-reporting, which is less accurate.
The study showed that, on average, participants were inactive for 12.3 hours of 16 hours of the day (excluding eight hours at night for sleep). Each period of inactivity lasted, on average, for 11.4 minutes.
The report took into account factors including sex, education, tobacco use, and hypertension; it concluded that the duration of periods of inactivity and of overall sedentary behavior throughout the day were linked to increases in the risk of death from any cause.
Participants who spent 13.2 hours a day inactive had a risk of death 2.6 times that of participants who spent less than 11.5 hours a day inactive. Those whose inactive episodes averaged 12.4 minutes or more had a risk of death twice as high as those with inactive episodes of under 7.7 minutes.
An important contribution of this study is that it analyzed two different aspects of inactivity: overall inactivity throughout the day, and the duration of individual periods of inactivity. It concludes that people with high levels of inactivity (12.5 hours a day or more) and long episodes of inactivity (10 minutes or more) have a significantly higher risk of death than those who only have one of these two risk factors.
“We were trying to understand what is the worst feature of a person’s sitting habits – is it how many hours a day you sit, or is it sitting in these long bouts,” said Diaz to The Guardian. “Unfortunately … it looks like both are bad for you.”
The team of researchers determined that the more often and more intense the interruptions of sedentary activity, the better for your health, so it is important to try and keep periods of continuous sitting to less than 30 minutes.
Research had already been done on sedentary lifestyles and periods of being seated at work. The University of Leicester published an exhaustive meta-study in October of 2012, published in the journal of the European Association of the Study of Diabetes. It also found a correlation between sedentary time and “an increased risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cardiovascular and all-cause mortality,” although “the strength of the association is most consistent for diabetes.”
One of the particular contributions of this newest report, financed by the US National Institutes of Health and by Coca Cola (although neither organization was directly involved in the research), is the use of activity trackers. However, the activity tracking devices were worn by the participants for only one week, and not throughout the entire study, which lasted for several years. Also, some risk factors were measured only once. Consequently, the study did not take into account all the possible changes in health or behavior of the participants throughout the time frame of the study.
Look for simple reasons to get up
Dr. Mike Loosemore, from the Institute of Sport, Exercise, and Health (not a member of the research team), told The Guardian that a sedentary lifestyle contributes to obesity (with all its associated health problems), and that adding more activity to your daily life doesn’t require that much work. “You can do simple things like stand up to answer the phone, maybe instead of getting a full glass of water from the kitchen get half a glass and then go twice as often,” he said. “Just simple things that every half hour give you an excuse to stand up and move around a bit.”
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