Sitting again is linked to illness, death, but exercise can help

June 20, 2022 – You probably know that sitting for hours is not good for you. New research now shows just how serious it can be.

In a study that followed more than 100,000 adults from 21 countries for more than 10 years, more time spent sitting during the day was linked to a higher risk of early death and heart disease.

The combination of prolonged sitting and physical inactivity was particularly harmful – almost as harmful as smoking.

But the good news is that increasing physical activity appears to reduce the risks of prolonged sitting, the researchers found.

“If you must sit, exercising more at other times of the day may help offset the risks,” says study researcher Scott Lear, PhD, a professor at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver.

“Humans seem made to move — and to suffer if we don’t,” says Harlan Krumholz, MD, of the Yale School of Medicine, who was not involved in the study.

The study showed that sitting for 8 or more hours a day was linked to an approximately 20% higher risk of contracting heart disease or dying from any cause during the study period, compared to those who remained seated for only half that time. People who sat for a long time were also 49% more likely to have heart failure.

Even sitting for 6 to 8 hours a day was associated with a 12% higher risk of early death and a 13% higher risk of heart disease.

This was true for people living in high-income, middle-income, and low-income countries.

The health benefits of being physically active were also clear in the study. People who sat the most and were least active had the highest risk (up to 50% higher risks), but for people who were the most seated and active, the risk was only 17%.

Finally, those who were both the least seated and the most active had the lowest risk of premature death and heart disease.

Krumholz says the link between sitting and premature death and heart disease is “plausible, and the solution — more physical activity — has few downsides and lots of upside.”

“As our society increasingly drifts towards more screen time and less physical activity, we need to consider the effects this may have on our long-term health and function,” he says.

Kristen T. Prall