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How Sitting Too Much Can Lead to Heart Disease
8/31/2018 7:38:25 PM
Sitting for long periods of time can have a profound negative effect on your health.

How Sitting Too Much Can Lead to Heart Disease

Corewell Health

How Sitting Too Much Can Lead to Heart Disease


A sedentary lifestyle is a risk factor for heart disease. The more you sit, the less you move, and the less you move, the more your risk increases.

Sitting a lot can kill you even if you exercise regularly. There is a new saying floating around: Sitting is the new smoking. That’s because evidence is coming out showing that sitting for long periods of time can have a profound negative effect on your health.

A study published at the end of 2017 in the Annals of Internal Medicine found evidence that sitting for long periods of time is a risk factor for early death. According to their study, the more time you sit, the greater your risk for early death becomes. Here are some statistics from the study:

  • Participants in the study who sat for more than 13 hours per day had a 200 percent greater risk of death than participants who sat for less than 11 hours.
  • Participants who moved more and sat less (sitting less than 30 minutes at a time) had a 55 percent lower risk than those who sat for 30 minutes or more at a time.
  • Participants who often sat longer than 90 minutes at a time were about twice as likely to die than those who always limited their sitting time to less than 90 minutes at a time.

Another study compared transit drivers who sit most of the time with conductors and guards who are standing or moving most of the time. The study compared people with similar diets, and they found that the people who sat a lot had twice the risk of developing heart disease as the people who moved around a lot.

The largest study about the dangers of sitting involved 800,000 people. This study, published in 2011 and run by Loughborough University and the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom, showed that people who sit the most, when compared to those who sat the least, had an increase in disease and death, specifically:

  • Their diabetes risk increased by 112 percent.
  • They had a 147 percent increase in cardiovascular events, like heart attacks and strokes.
  • They had a 90 percent increase in death from cardiovascular events.
  • They had a 49 percent increase in death from any cause.

What happens to your body when you sit a lot?

Sitting all day can be very damaging to your body. Here are some of the things that happen in your body when you spend too much time sitting.

  • Blood flow slows down, which allows fatty acids to build up in the blood vessels. This can lead to heart disease.
  • Your body’s ability to process fats is decreased. Lipoprotein lipase is an important enzyme your body produces to break down fat in your blood. When you sit, your body’s production of lipoprotein lipase drops by about 90 percent, which makes it very difficult for your body to use fat. When your body doesn’t use fat, it gets stored.
  • Sitting can lead to insulin resistance, which can cause type 2 diabetes and obesity, two risk factors for heart disease.
  • When you sit regularly for extended periods of time, your bones get weaker and your entire skeletal system can experience negative effects, including pain, bone spurs, inflammation, and other symptoms.
  • When you don’t use your muscles, they can lose strength and the ability to support other body systems.
  • It can affect your brain. Exercise triggers the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which grows neurons in the brain. It also helps fight the effects of cortisol (the stress hormone). So when supplies of BDNF decrease, cortisol increases, which leads to increased stress. Blood flow to the brain also slows when you’re sedentary, which reduces the amount of oxygen your brain receives.

People who sit too often and too long can have a myriad of health effects

  • slowed metabolism
  • posture issues
  • back and spine injuries
  • metabolic syndrome
  • chronic pain
  • osteoarthritis
  • obesity
  • diabetes
  • significant increased risk of heart disease
  • increased risk of early death

As you can see, sitting can lead to negative effects throughout the body, including increasing your risk for heart disease.

Lack of exercise is a known risk for coronary artery disease. This is in part because a sedentary lifestyle increases the risk for diabetes and high blood pressure. Getting regular physical activity can help reduce your risk of heart disease by helping you manage blood pressure and cholesterol, regulate your blood sugar levels, and maintain a healthy weight or lose weight. Exercise can strengthen your heart. There is also evidence that it can help improve your circulation and build a “back-up system” of blood vessels that can take over if one of your arteries is blocked by disease or a clot.

You have to sit all day at your job. What can you do to counteract the effects of sitting?

Just because your job requires you to sit doesn’t mean you have to just give in to the effects of sitting. Here are some tips for counteracting the negative effects of sitting for a long time:

  • Use a standing desk or a convertible desk that allows you to sit or stand. This will encourage you to move around more.
  • Take frequent breaks to move, walk, and stretch. Get up at least once an hour and walk around for a few minutes. Try using an app on your phone or desktop to remind you to move, or get a smart watch and set it to alert you that it’s time to get up and take a movement break.
  • Get regular aerobic exercise – at least an hour per day.
  • Watch your posture. Part of the negative effects of sitting are due to poor posture. If you slouch or sit with a bent back, it can be detrimental to your health. If you have to sit at a desk, try using a stability ball to encourage good posture or make a point to sit up straight.

A 2019 Journal of the American Heart Association study has some encouraging findings for the desk-bound - sitting at work may not be as bad for your heart and longevity as sitting and watching TV in your free time.

Are there any doctors who can help me reduce my risk of heart disease?

There are many doctors who can help you reduce your risk of heart disease.

The first is your primary care, family medicine or internal medicine doctor who will work with you to prevent many preventable health conditions.

Another is a cardiologist. Cardiologists are heart specialists who understand how the heart works and what you can do to prevent heart disease.

If you need surgery help prevent conditions and events related to heart disease, you may see a heart surgeon, an interventional cardiologist, or cardiovascular or cardiothoracic surgeon.

You may also want to see a dietician or nutritionist to talk about your diet, an exercise physiologist to help you develop an effective exercise plan, or a personal trainer or physical therapist who can work with you to make sure you’re doing the best exercises you can.

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