Couch potatoes are 7 times more likely to suffer a stroke than more physically active people

DALLAS, Texas — Sitting in front of a computer or television all day is not actually the healthiest activity you could pick. While that may not be a secret, a new study reveals sedentary lifestyles like this make someone seven times more likely to suffer a stroke than the most physically active people.

Researchers with the American Heart Association (AHA) find that adults under the age of 60 who spend a large part of their day sitting during leisure time are at a much higher risk for both heart disease and stroke. On average, adults spend 10.5 hours a day using smartphones or computers or watching TV. Adults between 50 and 64 spend the most time of any age group doing so, according to AHA statistics.

Figures also indicate that stroke-related deaths decreased in 2010 among adults 65 or older. However, deaths from stroke appear to be on the rise among younger adults between 35 and 64 — increasing from 14.7 for every 100,000 adults in 2010 to 15.4 per 100,000 people in 2016.

‘Modifiable’ behaviors contribute to most strokes

Previous research suggests the more time adults spend sitting down, the greater their risk of cardiovascular disease is. Researchers add that nearly nine in 10 strokes could be attributed to “modifiable” risk factors such as sitting too much.

“Sedentary time is increasing in the United States and Canada,” says study author Dr. Raed Joundi from the University of Calgary in a media release.

“Sedentary time is the duration of awake activities that are done sitting or lying down. Leisure sedentary time is specific to the sedentary activities done while not at work. It is important to understand whether high amounts of sedentary time can lead to stroke in young individuals, as a stroke can cause premature death or significantly impair function and quality of life.”

For the study, researchers reviewed health and lifestyle information from 143,000 Canadian adults with no prior history or stroke, heart disease, or cancer. They participated in health surveys in 2000, 2003, 2005, and 2007-2012. Researchers followed the group for an average of 9.4 years and identified strokes through hospital records.

They reviewed the amount of time spent each day in leisure sedentary activities — such as sitting at a computer, reading, and watching TV — and divided them into categories of less than four hours per day, four to six hours, six to eight hours, and over eight hours.

The team also divided physical activity into four equal categories, where the lowest was the least physically active and equivalent to going for a walk for 10 minutes or less daily.

“A walk of 10 minutes or less per day is lower than half of what the American Heart Association’s physical activity guidelines recommend,” Dr. Joundi explains.

Older adults at risk from a more sedentary lifestyle

The American Heart Association recommends adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week. The findings, published in the journal Stroke, showed that during a follow-up period of around 9.4 years, participants had 2,965 strokes. Nearly 90 percent of those were ischemic strokes, the most common stroke type, which occurs when a vessel supplying blood to the brain is blocked.

The average daily leisure sedentary time among all participants was 4.08 hours. People under 60 had an average leisure sedentary time of 3.9 hours per day. Average daily leisure sedentary time was 4.4 hours for adults between 60 and 79, and 4.3 hours for those 80 years and older.

Younger adults still need to monitor how inactive they are

Adults 60 or younger who had low physical activity and reported eight or more hours of leisure sedentary time each day had a 4.2 times higher risk of stroke compared to those reporting less than four hours of daily leisure sedentary time. The most inactive group – those reporting eight or more hours of sedentary time and low physical activity – were at seven times higher risk of stroke compared to those reporting less than four hours of sedentary time a day and higher levels of physical activity.

“Adults 60 years and younger should be aware that very high sedentary time with little time spent on physical activity can have adverse effects on health, including increased risk of stroke,” Dr. Joundi says. “Physical activity has a very important role in that it reduces the actual time spent sedentary, and it also seems to diminish the negative impact of excess sedentary time.”

“Physician recommendations and public health policies should emphasize increased physical activity and lower sedentary time among young adults in combination with other healthy habits to lower the risks of cardiovascular events and stroke,” the study author concludes.

Dr. Joundi adds that one limitation of the study was that the surveys did not ask the participants about occupation-related sedentary time, so seated time could be even more among people who have desk jobs.

South West News Service writer Stephen Beech contributed to this report.