Scientists have been studying for years the effects of sitting and have come to the conclusion extended periods of uninterrupted sedentary behavior is detrimental for your health, especially your heart health. That has left people who are required to spend hours sitting behind a desk feeling torn between the need to perform their job and protect their health. But closer scrutiny shows not all sitting is the same.
While sitting at work was not completely exonerated, researchers from Columbia University have determined sitting in front of a television is worse for your heart health than sitting at work. That’s bad news for television watchers, but the good news is it appears the ill effects can be counteracted.
"Our findings show that how you spend your time outside of work may matter more when it comes to heart health," said study author Keith Diaz. "Even if you have a job that requires you to sit for long periods of time, replacing the time you spend sitting at home with strenuous exercise could reduce your risk of heart disease and death."
The study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association involved a group of more than 3,500 African-Americans from Jackson, Mississippi whose activity levels were tracked for 8.5 years. That population segment was chosen because of a greater tendency toward heart disease compared to whites.
This study was also different than previous ones because of the length of time the participants were tracked. Researchers say they have had difficulty drawing accurate conclusions about the relationship between sitting and health risk over shorter periods of time.
Study subjects who watched four or more hours of television per day had a 50 percent greater risk of experiencing a cardiovascular event or death compared who those who watched less than two hours per day. The difference between leisure sitting a work sitting was seen in the fact those who sat the most at work had the same health risks as those who sat the least.
"It may be that most people tend to watch television for hours without moving, while most workers get up from their desk frequently," Diaz says. "The combination of eating a large meal such as dinner and then sitting for hours could also be particularly harmful."
Even though sitting at work was differentiated from television watching in the study, Diaz still has concerns about occupational sitting. "We recognize that it isn't easy for some workers, like truck drivers, to take breaks from sitting, but everyone else should make a regular habit of getting up from their desks,” Diaz said. “For those who can't, our findings show that what you do outside of work may be what really counts."
The study showed even the most ardent television watchers were able to mitigate the effects of sitting with vigorous physical activity such as walking briskly or doing aerobic exercise. People who watched television for four or more hours per day had no increased risk of heart attack or stroke if they counterbalanced it with at least 150 minutes or more of exercise per week.