Adults who sit for long periods of the day are more likely to die a premature death than people who are much more active, a new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine suggests.
Past studies have found a link between excessive sedentary time and an increased risk of death. However, most of those trials relied on people to remember how much they moved around. That type of data is easily skewed and may have not been reported correctly.
To get a better picture of the issue, researchers from Columbia University looked at data on 7,985 adults ages 45 and older who were asked to wear accelerometers for a one week period. This measured their activity levels and revealed that sedentary behavior accounted for 77 percent of the participants’ waking hours.
On average, people sat for about 11 minutes at a time, and more than half of the subjects sat and stood at different intervals. However, 14 percent of participants also sat for at least 90 minutes in one sitting.
The team organized the study by placing the subjects into groups that ranged from people who spent 11 hours a day sitting and standing to those who were inactive for 13 hours or more. In addition, they also grouped people based on how long they sat before they moved around.
The team found that the least active people were twice as likely to die an early death than the most active subjects. This remained true even if non-sedentary people exercised regularly.
However, the study also revealed that people were less likely to die young if they simply got up and moved around every half hour.
“We think these findings suggest that it is simply not enough to be active or move at just one specific time of the day, that is, exercise,” said lead author Keith Diaz of the Center for Behavioral Cardiovascular Health at Columbia University Medical Center, according to Reuters. “We need to be mindful of moving frequently throughout the day in addition to exercising.”
Though researchers are not sure, there is a chance sedentary stretches lead to death because of a process known as metabolic toxicity. In this, the lack of activity in muscles affects our ability to efficiently metabolize sugars. This can build up over time and cause problems like obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and death.
“This study adds to the growing literature on how dangerous long periods of sitting are for our health, and underscores a growing awareness among clinicians and researchers that sitting really is the new smoking,” said study co-author Monika Safford, the John J. Kuiper Professor at Weill Cornell Medicine, in a statement.
While the study presents compelling evidence, there were a few limitations to the data. Not only was the research not a controlled experiment aimed to directly link sitting time and premature death, but the accelerometers used in the research could not tell the difference between when people were sitting or standing. As a result, more trials need to be conducted before any strong conclusions can be reached.