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Is sitting bad for your health? Not necessarily, study finds

News Desk

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Sun, July 14, 2019  /  10:07 pm
Is sitting bad for your health? Not necessarily, study finds

People who spend most of their leisure time watching television and sitting likely do less exercise, which research has shown can make up for some of the harmful effects of sitting most of the day at work. (Shutterstock/Rawpixel.com)

The act of sitting seems entirely innocent. It might even be odd to think of it as an act; after all, your body isn’t doing anything while you sit. It is as natural as breathing, standing or blinking, something hardly anyone would think about when it comes to their health.

But recent studies have shown that a lot of time spent sitting may be a health risk, especially for your heart.

So what does this mean for nearly all office workers, who spent most of the day sitting in their cubicles? 

According to a new study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, sitting at work may not be as bad for your health and longevity as sitting and watching television in your free time.

As reported by Time, the study, which involved around 3,600 African-American adults, revealed the quantity of time they spent sitting at work, watching television and exercising during the past year. They also supplied data on demographics, lifestyle and medical history. Over eight years, the scientists supervised the health of the respondents, during which 129 had a cardiovascular problem and 205 died.

The scientists discovered that an enhanced risk of death and heart disease was unrelated to "often or always" sitting at the job after accounting for pre-existing health and lifestyle variables. But for those who sat during more of their leisure time, such as watching four or more hours of television a day, there was a 50 percent greater risk of heart problems and death than for those who watched only two hours or less.

Read also: Watching TV might be the worst sedentary behavior for kids: Study

The study's lead author, Jeanette Garcia, an assistant professor of sports and exercise science at the University of Central Florida, said the results were likely to apply to other populations, even though the study only involved African-American adults, who report disproportionately high rates of cardiovascular issues.

Nevertheless, another important factor was the type of person who has a desk job versus a more physically demanding job. 

Interestingly, the study found that people with more active jobs may have a higher chance of heart problems, because they were less likely to exercise outside the office regularly and more likely to eat an unhealthy diet. They also typically were less educated and made less money, and they were more likely to drink heavily and smoke, all contributing to risk of illness. Previous studies have also suggested that the physical strain associated with active jobs may shorten workers’ lifespans.

Activity and exercise outside of work, on the other hand, is obviously good for health. People who spend most of their leisure time watching television and sitting, Garcia notes, likely do much less exercise, which research has shown can make up for some of the harmful effects of sitting most of the day at your job.

For instance, in Garcia’s study, those with a lower risk of health issues participated in at least 150 minutes of moderate or tiring physical activity per week. Another recent study also discovered that substituting just 30 minutes of daily sitting with any other activity lowered mortality risk by 17 percent.

While most people might associate unhealthiness with simple laziness, the research seems to show that the act of sitting itself is what promotes the behavior we commonly associate with lethargy and unhealthiness.

The way people sit when they're at home watching TV compared to at work also factors into their health, Garcia said, as people were often glued to the sofa in the former, while they would usually take a break once in a while at work.

The study results show that more exercise and less sitting is always beneficial when away from work, but Garcia says the study should offer some relief to desk workers if they can move around the office and get enough physical activity outside their job. (nic/kes)