Study: Short breaks can undo damage of long-term sitting

Health -

Recent studies have found that sitting for an extended length of time is linked to health problems, prompting the American Medical Association to officially recommend American workers sit less.

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Copyright 2014 Reuters
Copyright 2014 Reuters

Hour-long sitting sessions can obstruct blood flow by up to 50%, but just 5-minute walking breaks can prevent that from happening, according to a new study from Indiana University. The study suggests more dramatic measures, like using standing desks for 8 hours a day, aren't necessary to combat the health risks of sitting.

"American adults sit for approximately eight hours a day. The impairment in endothelial function is significant after just one hour of sitting. It is interesting to see that light physical activity can help in preventing this impairment." Saurabh Thosar, lead author

Other recent studies show that prolonged sitting -- at work, in cars and at home -- contribute to heart disease, diabetes, cancer, low sperm counts and obesity. About two-thirds of U.S. adults are overweight or obese, according to the CDC.

"Prolonged sitting, particularly in work settings, can cause health problems and encouraging workplaces to offer employees alternatives to sitting all day will help to create a healthier workforce." Patrice Harris, American Medical Association board member

Noting that physical inactivity is estimated to account for 6% of global deaths, the AMA voted on June 18 to take an official stance against extensive sitting.

The AMA represents 225,000 doctors in the U.S. Its public health recommendations are widely disseminated and influential. Its pending resolution calls for work breaks, standing work stations, and replacing chairs with isometric balls.

Americans over 60 spend around two-thirds of their waking time sedentary, according to a study published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health. Every additional hour after nine hours that elderly Americans spend sitting, their risk of not being able to perform daily tasks (walking, bathing) increases by 50%.

"People should find opportunities to replace some of their sitting time with light activity. It's a low-cost strategy to good health." Dorothy Dunlop, University Feinberg School of Medicine

Researchers adjusted for exercise and other factors. For example, there are two people of the same gender both aged 65 with the same health profile. One who is sedentary for 12 hours a day might have a 6% chance of disability, while the other who is sedentary 13 hours a day has a 9% chance.

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