Sitting a lot? Study finds standing every 30 minutes cuts risk of death

NEW YORK — The war on desk jobs has long focused on the number of hours a person sits in a chair each day, but now researchers say that just as bad as being generally sedentary is sitting for sustained periods throughout the day.

A new study finds that people who sit for at least an hour at a time have a higher risk of an early death as people who are equally sedentary, but stay seated in shorter increments.

Man sitting at a desk in an office
A new study finds that people who sit down for shorter periods of time are less likely to die than those who are equally sedentary, but stay seated in longer bouts during the day.

In other words, if you know you’ve got a long project to work on, you’re doing your body a favor if you get up every 30 minutes and take a short walk around the office than if you were to do so every couple of hours.

Researchers at Columbia University monitored nearly 8,000 individuals, aged 45 and up, who were taking part in the national REGARDS study. Participants were equipped with activity monitors for the course of a week, which helped researchers examine their tendencies in terms of mobility.

The study’s average participant was sedentary 12 hours a day, which equated to 77 percent of their waking hours.

Four years after the initial experiment, the researchers followed up on the participants, 340 of whom had since died. Curious about the mortality risk for participants across varying levels of activity, the researchers discovered that people who sat down for longer periods of time had significantly worsened health risks than those who were equally as sedentary, but got up more frequently.

Specifically, people who were sedentary for more than 13 of their daily waking hours and sat in spurts ranging from an hour to 90 minutes were nearly twice as likely to die as those who sat for the least total sedentary time and sat down for shorter periods.

Particularly, people sat down for no more than 30 minutes at a time saw the lowest risk of early death.

“So if you have a job or lifestyle where you have to sit for prolonged periods of time, we suggest taking a movement break every half hour,” says the study’s lead investigator Dr. Keith Diaz, an  associate research scientist in the Department of Medicine at Columbia University Medical Center, in a press release. “This one behavior change could reduce your risk of death, although we don’t yet know precisely how much activity is optimal.”

This latest research represents the largest study to document the link between being sedentary and mortality risk.

“This study adds to the growing literature on how dangerous long period of sitting are for our health and underscores a growing awareness among clinicians and researchers that sitting really is the new smoking,” concludes co-author Dr. Monika Safford.

To help counteract the health problems associated with being sedentary, Safford recommends that individuals both limit their spurts and overall time spent sitting in a chair.

Previous research has shown that standing up while working or using a treadmill desk reduces stress in workers and boosts productivity.

The study’s findings were published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.


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