Think your 30 minute daily workouts are enough to ward off chronic disease? Think again. Recent research shows that people who sit for most of the day, even if they exercise, have an increased risk of chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and earlier death.
While any amount of exercise can reduce your risk of chronic disease, the researchers suggested that it may not be enough to ward off the ill-effects of sitting.
“People convince themselves they are living a healthy lifestyle, doing their 30 minutes of exercise a day,” explained diabetes researcher Dr. Emma Wilmot told the BBC. “But they need to think about the other 23.5 hours.”
The average adult spends between 50-70% of their time sitting or lying down, according to her estimates.
Wilmot and her colleagues from the University of Leicester recently conducted a meta-analysis of 18 studies on the effects of sitting. The research included nearly 800,000 people who had their activity levels monitored. Every study used a different measure for sedentary time, for instance 14 hours of T.V. time a week or self-reported sitting time of less than three hours day. The different measurements in the studies make it impossible to give a definitive limit on how much sitting time becomes bad for you. Still, it was apparent that people who logged in the most sitting hours had the highest risk of diabetes, heart disease, and death.
In one study from 2011, women who sat for six hours or more a day had a 37% greater risk of early death compared to women who sat for under three hours a day, even if they worked out. People who didn’t exercise and sat for most of the day had an even greater risk.
However, the strongest association was the link between sitting and diabetes. Studies suggest that too much sedentary time increases insulin resistance and negatively influence glucose levels, although scientists have yet to discover why.
But all hope isn’t lost if you have a sedentary job, the researchers pointed out. Little bursts of activity and movement throughout the day can add up. Wilmot suggested breaking up computer time with stretching, walking lunch breaks and meetings, or placing a laptop on top of a filing cabinet to stand.
Decreasing your sitting time doesn’t just lower risk of chronic disease, it can also help to prevent back and neck pain. In one new study, office workers who used standing desks had a 54% reduction in back and neck pain. Doctors of chiropractic can advise you on how to use proper ergonomics, exercise, and chiropractic adjustments to reduce your risk of pain and disease.
Wilmot EG, et al. Sedentary time in adults and the association with diabetes, cardiovascular disease and death: systematic review and meta-analysis. Diabetologia 2012;55(11):2895-905. doi: 10.1007/s00125-012-2677-z.