Features October 2016 Issue

Risks of Sedentary Time and How to Avoid Them

Recent research highlights the heart risks associated with too much sitting down time, but a little exercise daily may help a lot.

There have been several studies in recent years exploring the cardiovascular risks associated with a sedentary lifestyle and periods of prolonged sitting. A statement released by the American Heart Association in August, for example, makes the argument that too much sedentary time could be considered an independent risk factor for heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

A separate study, published in Circulation, noted that sitting and watching TV for five or more hours a day significantly raises your risk of developing a pulmonary embolism—a blood clot that forms in the leg and travels to the lungs, where it can put a strain on the heart muscles and lungs.

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Too much sedentary time is unhealthy for your heart, muscles and outlook. The solution is easy. Get up and get moving. A walk, bike ride, swim, or even house cleaning or yard work will help.

Sedentary doesn’t just mean a lack of exercise. It refers to long periods of little or no movement.

“Too much sedentary time leads to increased weight, weakness in muscles, arthritis, diabetes, high cholesterol and hypertension,” says Michael Crawford, manager of the Cardiac Rehab Program at Cleveland Clinic. “This increases our risk of cardiovascular disease.

“Anything that is designed to be in motion but stays stationary for long periods of time eventually begins to break down,” he says. “Take a look at abandoned cars, boats, other machinery and what do they look like? There’s rust, corrosion, and suboptimal performance in the pumps, tubes, air exchange, electronics and other various mechanisms. Now think of our bodies. We are designed to move with muscles (mechanisms), tubes (blood vessels), nerves (electronics), lungs (air exchange) and heart (pumps). If our bodies are not being used, over time, they will begin to deteriorate.”

How and Why to Move More

The obvious solution is to be more active, but that isn’t always easy, based on work schedules or physical limitations.

A study published recently in The Lancet suggests that one hour of physical activity can offset a day of sitting down. And while some exercise is better than none, Crawford says a daily one-hour workout should be accompanied by activity throughout the day.

“A good tip is for every two hours of sitting (working, watching TV, driving), you should get up and walk a few minutes,” he suggests. “If you have difficulty walking, even progressively tightening your muscles from the ankles up to the waist can help circulate the blood.

Other things you can try include:

1. Ankle/calf muscle pumping (rock your feet from heels to toes)
2. Leg extensions (bend your knee to extend your foot out parallel with the ground)
3. Hip flexing (put your arms/hands out above your knees, then raise your knees to touch your hands)
4. Stand in place and march
5. Arm circles
6. Arm reaches above the head
7. Deep breathing exercises.

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