Stand up for Your Health

Sedentary lifestyle tied to heart disease and cancer risk

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Office workers and couch potatoes alike may need to stand up for their health — literally.

Sitting for long periods of time can increase the risk of developing heart disease, cancer and diabetes, a new study found. And while exercising on a regular basis can help, it may not always make up for the health damage that sitting too much can do, the authors of this study said.

Patients who must sit down at work or in other contexts can, however, take many steps to reduce the damage, noted the authors of this study, led by David A. Alter, MD, of the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute-University Health Network and Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences. These researchers suggested getting up for one to three minutes every half hour when seated for long periods of time.

“It's really very simple, get up, walk around, do something,” said Jack Newman, head coach and CEO of Austin Tennis Academy in Texas, in an interview with dailyRx News. “Swim, bike, walk, run, play tennis, play golf, work in your garden. Your body is just like your car, if you let it sit in the garage too long, it won't run as well.”

Dr. Alter and team noted that many other studies have found that leading a couch-potato life is unhealthy, but few have done so while also looking at how much people exercised. For this study, these researchers examined 47 past studies that looked at how long patients spent seated or lying down and whether patients exercised. They found that time spent sitting, such as commuting in the car or watching TV, was tied to cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes risk. This risk was greatest for people who were the least active.

When patients exercised, their chances of becoming ill did decrease, but they were still at risk if they still spent a lot of time sitting down, Dr. Alter and colleagues found.

“These results and others reaffirm the need for greater public awareness about the hazards associated with sedentary behaviors and justify further research to explore the effectiveness of interventions designed to target sedentary time independently from, and in addition to, physical activity,” Dr. Alter and team wrote.

In an editorial about the current study, Brigid M. Lynch, PhD, of the Cancer Council Victoria, and Neville Owen, PhD, of the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute — both of Melbourne, Australia — noted that this research adds to a body of work, but there is a need for more research in the area of sedentary lifestyles and their effect on health.

"The potential for innovative approaches to reduce health risks of too much sitting, particularly for primary prevention, is considerable, but such approaches should be based on strong evidence," Drs. Lynch and Owen wrote.

Newman, who was not involved in the current study, said this research may be a wake-up call for many.

“​This study is another in a long line of studies that tell us what we already know, but many refuse to act upon.”

This study was published Jan. 19 in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Some of the study authors received funding from sources like the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada. Dr. Alter and colleagues disclosed no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
January 16, 2015
Last Updated:
January 20, 2015