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6 things that will scare you off the couch

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Have your ever thought about how much time you spend sitting? Think about it…

It starts from the the time we wake and sit down on the toilet in the morning… then sit at the breakfast table. Then we’re sitting in our cars or buses to and from work or school, and again at our desks all day. And at the end of the day we finally end up on the couch in front of the television. That’s hours and hours of sitting.

When we string together the amount of time we sit, and are inactive, it’s staggering and scary… because new research tells us that sitting for long periods leads to heart disease and set us up for risk of early death.

Heart disease: Scope and impact

I’ve previously written about the increased risk of stroke associated with a sedentary lifestyle in my article Strokes kill more people than ever before. But today I want to review the largest and most comprehensive evaluation of sedentary time and cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk to people in general.

Heart disease is the biggest killer of Americans, period. And it comes in many forms, including high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, coronary heart disease (high cholesterol clogging plaque), cardiovascular disease, and more. Sitting for extended periods of time, regardless of how much you exercise, increases your risk of CVD.

A look at the following six points provided by the Heart Foundation should scare you right out of your seat:

  1. Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death in the United States, killing nearly 787,000 people alone in 2011.
  2. Cardiovascular diseases claim more lives than all forms of cancer combined.
  3. Coronary heart disease (arterial plaque) is the most common type of heart disease, killing nearly 380,000 people annually.
  4. In the United States, someone has a heart attack every 34 seconds. Every 60 seconds, someone in the United States dies from a heart disease-related event.
  5. While 1 in 31 American women dies from breast cancer each year, 1 in 3 dies of heart disease.
  6. Direct and indirect costs of heart disease total more than $320.1 billion. That includes health expenditures and lost productivity.

New study quantifies sitting risk

While previous studies have shown a link between being sedentary and risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD) no study, until now, has quantified the time/risk factor. For this study, published in the July 13 edition of JAMA Cardiology, researchers set out to determine the categorical and quantitative dose-response association between sedentary time and CVD risk.

In conducting their study, investigators searched the MEDLINE and EMBASE databases for all studies published before July 6, 2015, that evaluated the association between sedentary time and incidence of cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, nonfatal myocardial infarction, stroke, and cardiovascular-related death.

They found nine prospective cohort studies with 720,425 participants, of which about 57% were women and 43% were men, with an average age of about 54 years. Within this group there occurred 25,769 unique cardiovascular events.

The breakdown

The researchers were able to group the study participants into three groups: low, medium and high levels of sedentary time.

Low levels of sedentary time (around 2.5 hours per day) were not associated with CVD risk.

Medium levels of sedentary time (around 7.5 hours per day), when compared with the low levels, also found no direct link of CVD risk. So don’t worry, sitting most of your day at work is not putting you at risk.

However, high levels of sedentary time (12.5 hour per day) were directly related to increased CVD risk and events.  According to researchers, “increased risk observed for more than 10 hours of sedentary time per day.”

Good behaviors can change poor physiology

The way the body functions is called its physiology. When physiology is normal the body is in homeostasis or health. And when our bodies become diseased its physiology changes, homeostasis is askew, and the parts no longer work as they should. In the case of sitting for too long, the ability of the heart and is circulatory system begin to falter, leading to increased risk of CVD and premature death.

The good news is that this is a lifestyle problem based in behaviors. As such, if we make different choices for how we spend our day, and thus change our work and relaxation behaviors, we can reverse the threat. Simply put, by changing our behaviors we change our physiology and can reduce our risk of heart disease and early death.

According to this meta-analysis 10 hours per day draws the line in the sand. When we reach 10 hours we place our heart, and our life, in jeopardy.

But when we add up our eating, commute, and office times, we are already in red territory. This means we need to think out of the box, to be creative. Here are some suggestions you can implement:

  1. Take the subway to work and stand… or walk.
  2. Use a standing work station instead of sitting at a desk.
  3. Stand up and pace while thinking
  4. Get up every hour and walk around the room
  5. Stand up every time you answer the phone and don’t sit back down until the call is over.
  6. Watch TV while exercising, treadmill, etc. instead of while seated in a chair or on sofa.

You can even pick different things to do after work to relax, other than sitting to watch television or reading. Such as:

  • Walking
  • Biking
  • Strength Training
  • Yoga
  • Martial arts
  • Badminton or tennis
  • Play with kids or pets

Even musical instruments you play standing are terrific hobbies, including:

  • Guitar
  • Bass
  • Saxophone
  • Trumpet
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