Breaks from sitting important for heart health, waistline

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
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Frequent breaks from sitting is found to lower heart disease risks and keep waists slimmer.
Investigators at the School of Population Health, The University of Queensland, Australia discovered people who take frequent breaks from sitting, even for a minute, had smaller waistlines and lower levels of C-reactive protein - an inflammatory marker measured in the bloodstream. Too much sitting was also found to raise other markers of inflammation that indicate higher risk of diabetes and blocked arteries.

Taking frequent breaks from sitting reduces waist circumference

Dr Genevieve Healy, a research fellow at the School of Population Health, The University of Queensland, Australia who led the study, said: "Overall, for length of sedentary time, the most clinically significant findings were for blood fats and markers of insulin resistance. For the number of breaks in sedentary time, the most significant differences were observed for waist circumference. The top 25% of people who took the most breaks had, on average, a 4.1cm smaller waist circumference than those in the lowest 25%."

The results come from data that included 4,757 people aged 20 and over, taking part in the US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, between 2003 and 2006. Study participants wore a device called and accelerometer that measures sedentary time and activity. The findings showed waist circumference increases or non-Hispanic whites who are sedentary, but not for. Mexican Americans. Non-Hispanic blacks seemed to benefit from sitting.

Prolonged sitting raises blood pressure and cholesterol

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The scientists measured a number of indicators showing that sitting too long is bad for heart health, that included waist circumference, blood pressure, cholesterol levels and C-reactive protein concentrations. They also measured levels of triglycerides, plasma glucose and insulin in a small group of participants who had not eaten and available for a morning exam. Socioeconomic status, medical history and lifestyle factors such as smoking and alcohol consumption were also taken into consideration.

The authors concluded it's important to stand up and take a break from sitting, even if it's for a brief period. In the study, the longest sedentary time was 21.2 hours per day and the shortest was 1.8 hours over a full 7 day period. The fewest number of breaks was 99, and the most was 1,258.

In the workplace, the authors say taking breaks from sitting should not affect productivity. Dr. Healy says sedentary time should be viewed as "... a distinct health risk behaviour that warrants explicit advice in future public health guidelines. In particular, the findings are likely to have implications for settings where prolonged sitting is widespread, such as in offices." She says just standing for one minute might help, though more studies are needed to determine the impact on job performance.

Suggestions for keeping waistline slimmer and avoiding the heart health risks from sitting for prolonged periods include standing to take phone calls, regular breaks during meetings and even conducting meetings standing up. Restrooms could be place on a different level from the main office in workplaces. Positioning rubbish bins, printers and shredders can encourage walking and moving at the office. Employees should be encouraged to take the stairs whenever feasible.

'Stand up, move more, more often' could be used as a slogan to get this message across", says Healy. Even though occupational health and safety standards encourage frequent posture changes and a variety of work tasks, too much sitting can lead to expanding waistlines and poor heart health-even for those at home and on the sofa. Past studies have linked office jobs that require sitting to increased death rates, lending support to the current findings.

Eur Heart J (2011) doi: 10.1093/eurheartj/ehq451

Updated January 22, 2014

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