Skeleton Sitting on Couch

Are You Sitting Yourself to Death?

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Skeleton Sitting on CouchWe all know that exercise and an active lifestyle promote good health. In fact, moderate-to-vigorous physical activity paired with a healthy lifestyle can reduce your risk for many life-threatening conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, and even cancer.

But what about the reverse? Can a sedentary lifestyle increase your risk for these diseases? According to researchers from the United Kingdom, the answer is yes, especially if you are female.[1]

Sitting and Your Health

Researchers questioned if increased time in a chair was associated with increased levels of four key inflammation biomarkers:

  1. C-reactive protein (CRP)
  2. Leptin (hormone that also signals satiety)
  3. Interleukin-6 (IL-6)
  4. Adiponectin

To determine this, they examined data on 111 participants from the ADDITION-Leicester study, a population-based diabetes screening and management program. Participants were between the ages of 25 and 75, and 46 percent were female.

All participants were asked the following question: During the last 7 days, how much time did you usually spend sitting on a weekday?

In addition to time spent actually sitting, the data also included time lying down but not sleeping, such as watching TV in bed.

All participants were then tested for a wide variety of clinical and biochemical measurements, including:

  • Weight
  • Waist circumference
  • Height
  • Body mass index (BMI)
  • Smoking or not
  • Medication use
  • Fasting glucose
  • Two-hour glucose
  • CRP
  • IL-6
  • Leptin
  • Adiponectin
  • Leptin/adiponectin ratio
  • Insulin

Researchers found that, for women, increased sitting time was associated with increased insulin, leptin/adiponectin ratio, CRP, IL-6, and leptin. For men, only CRP was associated with increased sitting time. Interestingly, neither fasting glucose nor two-hour glucose levels were impacted by sitting time in either gender.

When extrapolated to overall health, this meant that women who sat for long periods of time during the week had increased biomarkers for inflammation, adiposity (weight around the middle), and insulin resistance. All three of these conditions are well-known risk factors for heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

When it came to the issue of the gender differences, researchers could only hypothesize. They pointed to a 2007 study published in Diabetes Care, which found that, “although men report higher levels of sedentary behavior than women, men also tend to engage in different patterns of physical activity and that this may protect against the effect of excess sedentary behavior.”[2]

Given this, researchers concluded, “Higher levels of sitting time, independent of [moderate-to-vigorous physical activity], have a deleterious impact on insulin resistance and chronic low-grade inflammation in women, but not men.”

They go on to suggest that encouraging women to spend less time sitting could be an important factor in preventing chronic disease.

Lose the Lap

The takeaway from this is pretty straightforward: Get up and move! And don’t think this pertains just to women. While the cascade of biomarkers was significantly worse for the fairer sex, men still had increased CRP levels — a well-known indicator of inflammation in the body.

If you have a desk job, take frequent breaks. Instead of reaching for the phone to call a colleague, reach for the door and head down the hall to see them. Find a group of people to walk with at lunchtime. Make a point to find the water cooler once an hour. Not only will it force you to get up every 60 minutes, but the extra intake of water will help ensure you are getting your recommended eight glasses of water a day.

[1] Yates T et al. Self-reported sitting time and markers of inflammation, insulin resistance, and adiposity. Am J Prev Med. 2012 Jan;42(1):1-7.

[2] Dunstan DW et al. Association of television viewing with fasting and 2-h postchallenge plasma glucose levels in adults without diagnosed diabetes. Diabetes Care. 2007;30:516-22.

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