Excessive sitting, especially when done in prolonged, uninterrupted bouts, may increase the risk of premature death, even in people who exercise a lot. But frequent breaks may mitigate the negative effects, according to a study in the Annals of Internal Medicine in October 2017.
Researchers tracked the sedentary behavior of 8,000 Americans ages 45 and older using a hip-mounted accelerometer for a week. They found that people averaged 12.3 sedentary hours per 16-hour waking day. During a four-year follow-up, 340 participants died. Greater daily sedentary time and longer average sedentary bouts were both associated with higher mortality rates, regardless of age, sex, weight, cardiovascular risk factors, and exercise habits.
“Our findings suggest that total sedentary time and prolonged, uninterrupted sedentary bouts are jointly associated with increased risk for death and that interrupting sedentary time every 30 minutes may protect against the health risks incurred by prolonged sedentariness,” the study concluded.
The problem with sitting a lot isn’t just that it burns so few calories. Animal studies have found that because of lack of muscle activity, prolonged sitting can adversely affect blood cholesterol, triglycerides and blood sugar levels, as well as increase inflammation and fat storage.
The good news is that research suggests that all you need to do is break up prolonged sitting time by getting up and taking five-minute walks every couple of hours. Even just standing up for a minute or pacing around the room may help. And if you don’t exercise regularly, these short bouts may help break the inertia of sedentariness and lead you to longer, more strenuous activity.