A new study, based on health data from nearly half a million adults, adds to those warnings, finding that people who primarily sit at work have a 16 percent higher risk of mortality from all causes and a 34 percent higher risk of death from heart disease than those who primarily do not sit.
However, a little exercise each day may help to reduce that risk significantly. According to the study, published in JAMA Network Open, continual sitters who engage in an additional 15 to 30 minutes of physical activity each day may reduce their risk of death to the same level as persons who do not sit at work.
"The serious risks associated with prolonged occupational sitting can be mitigated by incorporating regular breaks and engaging in additional physical activity," wrote Chi-Pang Wen, MD, PhD, of the Institute of Population Health Science at Taiwan's National Health Research Institute, and his study coauthors. "Systemic changes, such as more frequent breaks, standing desks, designated workplace areas for physical activity, and gym membership benefits, can help reduce risk."
Short bursts of activity can provide significant health gains.
Dr. Wen and his colleagues studied over half a million Taiwanese people aged 20 and up. The researchers reported around 26,000 deaths over a nearly 13-year follow-up period. A total of 15,045 (57 percent) of these deaths occurred among people who primarily sat at work. None of the participants had been diagnosed with cardiovascular disease before to the trial.
According to questionnaire replies, participants were divided into three groups based on their workplace sitting habits: predominantly sitting, alternate sitting and nonsitting, and mostly nonsitting. The study participants also submitted information on their levels of physical exercise.
Individuals who sat most of the time at work had significantly higher overall risks than those who alternated between sitting and nonsitting, as well as those who sat predominantly. The dangers between the alternating sit and nonsit group and the nonsitters were comparable.
According to the study's findings, persons who spend most of their time at work sitting and engaging in little physical activity — ranging from less than 15 minutes to 29 minutes per day — would gain greatly from adding a little extra movement to their day. For this cohort, adding 15 to 30 minutes of daily physical exercise reduced their risk of death to the same level as individuals who do not sit at work.
The findings back up prior study demonstrating how short bursts of activity might significantly reduce the probability of dying prematurely in persons who are generally inactive. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans indicate that individuals engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity per week, or an equivalent combination of the two.
Finding Simple Ways to Incorporate Exercise into Your Daily Life.
"The study really highlights that to be healthier, you have to first observe how much you are moving or not moving," says Anand Rohatgi, MD, a preventive cardiologist and professor of medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. "Then set some goals to do a little bit more with respect to standing, walking, moving, and more actual exercise."
According to Dr. Rohatgi, research suggests that persistent sitters may benefit from simple work breaks that do not require organized exercise regimens, such as standing up at your desk or taking a 10-minute stroll every few hours.
Jay Dawes, PhD, an associate professor of applied exercise science at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, encourages people to find methods to incorporate more movement into their daily lives, such as climbing the stairs, parking farther away from store and workplace doors, and walking during phone calls.
He adds that people should incorporate a combination of strength training and stretching into their everyday routines, as well as aerobic exercise. “Just having some base level of strength is really important,”says Dr. Dawes.
His overarching message from the study is that any activity can contribute to improved health. "The key is to just do something," he said.