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Sitting may be more hazardous than you think

May 6, 2009 |  1:41 pm

By now everyone knows they should do 30 minutes or more of moderate to vigorous exercise a day to stay healthy. But are people who exercise as much as an hour or more getting enough movement throughout the day?

Kfrdzpnc Maybe not, according to a new study that took an interesting angle on sedentary behavior. Researchers wondered if a connection existed between sitting for long periods of time and mortality, and discovered there was -- even for people who engaged in leisure-time activity. That's right, sitting on your duff might not only be bad for your health, it could contribute to your demise.

The study followed 17,013 Canadians ages 18 to 90 for an average of 12 years, men and women who were part of the 1981 Canada Fitness Survey. They were asked to rate how long each day they spent sitting, from "almost none of the time" to "almost all of the time."

Among causes of death during the study period, 759 were from cardiovascular disease, 547 from cancer, and 526 from other causes, such as respiratory disease, injuries and violence, and digestive system disorders. Those who died tended to have a higher body mass index and were less physically active. More importantly, increased sitting time was linked with death rates from all causes except cancer.

That association was seen among those who did and did not exercise, as well as all BMI levels. That’s right -- even people who exercised but remained sedentary for much of the day had a higher mortality risk.

"This is an important observation because it suggests that high amounts of sitting cannot be compensated for with occasional leisure time physical activity even if the amount exceeds the current minimum physical activity recommendations," wrote researchers from the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, La., and the Canadian Fitness and Lifestyle Research Institute in Ottawa. The study appears in the May issue of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

The study gives us a new appreciation for jobs such as nursing, waiting tables and hair styling, although there are sore feet and aching backs to think about. And it lends some credence to what Dr. James Levine, an endocrinologist with the Mayo Clinic, has been touting for years -- integrating a treadmill into a work space to incorporate more movement into the day. He’ll probably live forever.

-- Jeannine Stein

Photo credit: Javier Galeano / AP