The study, published online in the European Heart Journal, examined the total length of time people spent sitting down and breaks taken in that time, together with various indicators of risk for heart disease, metabolic diseases such as diabetes, and inflammatory processes that can play a role in the blocking of arteries.
The study, led by Genevieve Healy, MD, from the University of Queensland, suggests that plenty of breaks, even if the breaks are as short as one minute. The study says even short breaks from sitting seem to be beneficial to your looks and health.
Take a Break to Slim Down
The Australian research found that long periods of sitting down, even in people who did a lot of exercise otherwise, were still associated with worse indicators of cardio-metabolic function and inflammation such as lower levels of HDL ("good") cholesterol, higher levels of C-reactive protein (an important marker of inflammation), higher triglycerides levels (blood fats) and a larger waist circumferences,.
However, the study also found that even in people who spent a long time sitting down, the more breaks they took during this time, the smaller their waists and the lower the levels of C-reactive protein.
"The most significant differences were observed for waist circumference," says Healy. "The top 25% of people who took the most breaks had, on average, a 4.1 cm smaller waist circumference than those in the lowest 25%."
Dangers of Being too Big Around the Middle are Well-documented
According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, high-risk waist circumferences are:
- Over 35 inches for women.
- Over 40 inches for men.
The researchers analyzed earlier U.S. data from nearly 5,000 people aged 20 and over.
The participants wore a small device called an accelerometer, which monitored the amount and intensity of walking or running.
It gave researchers information on sedentary time (sitting time) and breaks in sedentary time.
Small Changes Help
"The potential adverse health impact of prolonged sitting (which is something that we do on average for more than half of our day), is only just being realized," Healy says. "Our research highlights the importance of considering prolonged sedentary time as a distinct health risk behavior that warrants explicit advice in future public health guidelines."
The study suggests even small changes could help, like standing up to take phone calls, walking to see a colleague rather than phoning or emailing, and centralizing trash cans and printers so you have to walk to them.
Amy Thompson, Senior Cardiac Nurse at the British Heart Foundation, says in a statement, "This study was a very interesting read and adds to well established evidence that long periods of inactivity are not good for the heart.
"If you're sitting for long periods it's really important you take regular breaks by getting up on your feet. Regular physical activity is essential to protect cardiovascular health."
- Healy, G. European Heart Journal, published online Jan. 11, 2011.
- News release, European Heart Journal.
- British Heart Foundation.NHS Choices.
- National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Obesity Education Initiative: "The Practical Guide: Identification, Evaluation, and Treatment of Overweight and Obesity in Adults."