NEW TAIPEI CITY, Taiwan — People who primarily sit during their workday face a nearly 35-percent increased risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, according to a new study. However, researchers say sedentary people can reverse that risk by engaging in 15 and 30 minutes of vigorous exercise daily.
The study examined 481,688 participants over 20 years, focusing on their health to occupational sitting, physical activity, and other lifestyle habits. Researchers in Taiwan report that those leading a sedentary work life — defined as spending most of their time seated — had a 16-percent higher risk of mortality from all causes compared to their more active counterparts.
Notably, individuals who predominantly sat at work faced a 34-percent increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease. These statistics held true even after accounting for factors such as gender, age, smoking habits, alcohol consumption, and body mass index (BMI).
Interestingly, people who led a “combination lifestyle” – alternating between sitting and standing or moving at work – did not show an increased risk of death. Furthermore, individuals with sedentary jobs who also exercised regularly in their free time exhibited a lower risk of death from all causes, including cardiovascular disease.
The study suggests that the detrimental effects of prolonged occupational sitting can be counteracted by taking regular breaks and engaging in additional physical activities. Alternative solutions, like standing desks, employer-provided gym memberships, and workplace areas designated for physical activity, can also help mitigate the risks associated with sedentary work habits.
“As part of modern lifestyles, prolonged occupational sitting is considered normal and has not received due attention, even though its deleterious effect on health outcomes has been demonstrated,” the study authors write in JAMA Network Open. “These findings suggest that reducing prolonged sitting in the workplace and/or increasing the volume or intensity of daily physical activity may be beneficial in mitigating the elevated risks of all-cause mortality and cardiovascular disease associated with prolonged occupational sitting.”
The researchers further elaborate that individuals who predominantly sit at work should aim for an additional 15 to 30 minutes of physical activity per day to balance their risk level with those who are more active at work.
“The observed attenuated risk among individuals who alternate between sitting and nonsitting at work suggests that incorporating regular breaks in work settings can be beneficial,” the team writes. “Our findings offer reassurance that the increased risks can be offset by an extra 15 to 30 minutes per day of exercise per day or by participating in more physically intense activities. Employers can play a role in facilitating this by providing designated areas for LTPA (leisure-time physical activity) or offering company-sponsored group activities.”
The study also explores several reasons behind the dangers of prolonged sitting, including insufficient exercise of the large lower limb muscles, potentially leading to increased blood flow to the extremities. This can result in reduced insulin action, diabetes, obesity, metabolic syndrome, and diminished kidney function, all of which are associated with higher health risks, including cardiovascular disease.
“Overall, our findings from a large prospective cohort help to strengthen the increasingly accumulating evidence linking a sedentary lifestyle and health risks,” the researchers conclude.
South West News Service writer Imogen Howse contributed to this report.