We’ve all seen the statistics somewhere– a sedentary lifestyle increases the risk of death by 71%, heart attacks by 147%, and certain cancers by 66%. What got lost in the numbers however were the types of sitting most harmful to our bodies. A new study sheds light on this important nuance.
Researchers from the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University worked with nearly 3,600 respondents over the course of 8 ½ years and recorded their sitting habits. The number of hours each participant sat daily plus just as importantly, the setting- whether at work or at home- were then analyzed for their effects on health. The results were startling.
The study revealed that leisure-time sitting at home was far more damaging than sitting at work hour per hour, leading to a much greater risk of heart disease and even death.
Why sitting at home is more harmful
According to Keith M. Diaz, one of the researchers, the reason for these findings is that most individuals who spend time watching TV don’t remember to stretch or walk around.
In contrast, desk-bound workers occasionally get up from their workstations- whether it’s to walk to a conference room, their colleague’s desk or the printer station. This notion is supported by a different study that also shows that any light-intensity movement minimizes the risks associated with extended sitting.
Diaz explains that another likely reason for this outcome is the fact that leisure-time sitting encourages other unhealthy habits like snacking and drinking alcohol, which are equally harmful to your heart health.
Similarly, if you’re watching TV till late at night, you’re disrupting your sleep patterns and this also heightens your risk of heart disease.
Opt for movement
The researchers from Columbia University did have some positive findings: engaging in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) offsets the risks associated with extended sitting.
MVPA are activities that cause an increase in one’s heart rate. Simple activities like brisk walking (at approximately 4 miles per hour), vacuuming or playing doubles tennis raises your rate of breathing and uses up energy.
In the study, individuals who watched TV for the longest period but took part in MVPA for at least 150 minutes every week did not have any increased risk of heart disease, stroke or death.
Wellness at home
The key takeaway from this research is that different forms of sedentary behavior have different effects. While prolonged sitting, in general, has serious health effects, some types are riskier than others.
More specifically, this investigation revealed that lounging at home watching carries more risk of a cardiovascular event – such as heart attack, stroke and death- than extended sitting at work. This means that the activities we engage in outside of work are just as important.
The study encourages companies and workers to take a holistic approach to wellness. In other words, the quest for adopting healthy habits should not only happen at the workplace but also at home.
Workers, on their part, should look for ways to incorporate movement during their leisure activities. Similarly, companies have a responsibility to enlighten their employees about the dangers of prolonged sitting both at home and at work.