Don’t Take This Health News Sitting Down

Disclaimer: Results are not guaranteed*** and may vary from person to person***.

This is a story about hidden causes of illness that is best taken, well, standing up.

A new study from the American Cancer Society has found a twist on the idea of exercise keeping you healthy. It isn’t all about how much physical activity you get, but how much time you spend sitting that can affect your risk of death.

Researchers say time spent sitting was linked on its own with all-cause mortality, regardless of physical activity level. The study appears early online in the “American Journal of Epidemiology” and is important because sitting isn’t talked about as much as it may need to be. Everyone knows of exercise’s health benefits. But few know of sitting’s detrimental effects.

Higher and higher levels of obesity in the U.S. have major public health consequences. The larger frames of Americans have been attributed in part to reduced overall exercise. And, while several studies support a link between sitting time and obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease risk factors, and unhealthy dietary patterns, very few studies have examined time spent sitting in relation to risk of death. This means time spent sitting gets swept aside, its effects unknown.

That is, until now. Researchers analyzed survey responses from over 123,000 people with no history of cancer, heart attack, stroke, or lung disease. They examined the amount of time spent sitting and physical activity in relation to death between 1993 and 2006. They found that more leisure time spent sitting was associated with higher risk of mortality, particularly in women.

Women who reported more than six hours per day of sitting were 37% more likely to die during the time period studied than those who sat fewer than three hours a day. Men who sat more than six hours a day were 18% more likely to die than those who sat fewer than three hours per day. The interesting point is that these numbers stay the same even after adjusting for exercise levels. The links were stronger to deaths by heart disease than to those by cancer.

Women and men who both sat more and were less physically active were 94% and 48% more likely, respectively, to die compared with those who reported sitting the least and being most active. Researchers believe sitting can exert changes in metabolism, affecting cholesterol, blood sugar levels, blood pressure and triglycerides.

It just doesn’t pay to stay sedentary.