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There’s been a low roar across the medical community in recent years over the dangers of excessive sitting, and now the rumbling has picked up significant steam. New research has found that if you sit for more than 10 hours a day, you are prematurely aging your cells.
The study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, examined nearly 1,500 women between the ages of 64 and 95. The cells of the women who sat for over 10 hours and did less than 40 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous exercise per day were biologically eight years older than the more active women.
“Our study found cells age faster with a sedentary lifestyle. Chronological age doesn’t always match biological age,” said Dr. Aladdin Shadyab, the lead author of the study at the Department of Family Medicine and Public Health at the UCSD School of Medicine.
This is because shorter telomeres were found on the DNA strands of the women with the biologically older cells. Telomeres help to protect chromosomes from deterioration. To put their role in biological perspective, telomeres are to DNA strands as plastic tips are to shoelaces. And as cells age and get older, telomeres typically fray and shorten. This shortening is associated with cardiovascular disease, diabetes and major cancers. Lifestyle choices like smoking and obesity also contribute to telomeres’ shrinkage. However, moderate exercise was proven to positively help the body on a cellular level.
“We found that women who sat longer did not have shorter telomere length if they exercised for at least 30 minutes a day, the national recommended guideline,” Shadyab added. “Discussions about the benefits of exercise should start when we are young, and physical activity should continue to be part of our daily lives as we get older, even at 80 years old.”
Sitting Dangers Exist Even With Physical Activity
Unfortunately, regular workouts do not fully protect you against the dangers of excessive sitting. The combination of being seated while watching TV after being at a desk eight hours a day, even if you’re physically active, is still bad for your health.
Research shows that people who engage in weekly physical activity can still develop chronic disease if they spend too much of their non-exercise time sitting.
“It appears that there are independent health effects associated with excessive sitting, and that even in people who are meeting the physical activity guidelines of 150 minutes per week, there are ill health effects associated with sitting excessively during the rest of the day,” said Peter Katzmarzyk, associate executive director for Population and Public Health Sciences at Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, La.
A separate study showed that people who logged in four hours or more of recreational sitting screen time, versus adults who spent less than two hours a day in front of a screen, had a nearly 50 percent increased risk of death from any cause and a 125 percent increased risk of a cardiovascular disease event, like chest pain (angina) or heart attack.
How Much Should You Move to Offset Sitting Risks?
A team of international experts who put together a third study, published in The Lancet, recommend that you do one hour of vigorous activity for every eight hours of sitting. If you sit continuously for six hours, a half hour of active movement will suffice.
Lead author of this study, Professor Ulf Ekelund, from the Norwegian School of Sports Sciences and Cambridge University, said, “You don’t need to do sport, you don’t need to go to the gym. It’s OK doing some brisk walking, maybe in the morning, during lunchtime, after dinner in the evening. You can split it up over the day, but you need to do at least one hour.”
When the association between exercise and sedentary behavior was explored, it showed that swapping sitting time with even light activity had great positive long term effects on health. But moderate to vigorous activity gleaned the greatest positive results.
The American Heart Health Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week.
Three Easy Ways to Get Out of Your Seat
Sitting less overall and moving more is the key to staying healthy. Making the choice to stand over sitting every chance you get is also a great lifestyle choice. Try these tips to transform your day at work and at home:
- Stand while talking on the phone or eating lunch.
- If you work at a desk for long period of time, switch to a standing desk or use a high table or counter.
- Walk laps with colleagues for gatherings, instead of meeting in a conference room.