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Sitting hurts worker health

Monday January 26, 2015 Written by  University Health Network
The amount of time a person sits during the day is associated with a higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and death, regardless of regular exercise.

A new meta-analysis study, recently published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, reviewed studies focused on sedentary behaviour. The authors found the negative effects of sitting time on health are more pronounced among those who do little or no exercise than among those who participate in higher amounts of exercise.

"More than one half of an average person's day is spent being sedentary—sitting, watching television, or working at a computer," said Dr. David Alter, a senior scientist with Toronto Rehab in the University Health Network (UHN), and Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences. Alter is senior author on the report. "Our study finds that despite the health-enhancing benefits of physical activity, this alone may not be enough to reduce the risk for disease."

Avi Biswas, lead author of the report and a PhD candidate at Toronto Rehab, UHN and the Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation at the University of Toronto, agreed.

"The findings suggest that the health risk of sitting too much is less pronounced when physical activity is increased," Biswas said. "We need further research to better understand how much physical activity is needed to offset the health risks associated with long sedentary time and optimize our health."

Future research will help determine what interventions, in addition to physical activity, are effective against the health risk of sedentary time.

"It is not good enough to exercise for 30 minutes a day and be sedentary for 23 and half hours," said Alter. In the interim, he underlined strategies people can use to reduce sitting time. The target is to decrease sedentary time by two to three hours in a 12-hour day.

"The first step is to monitor sitting times. Once we start counting, we're more likely to change our behaviour," said Alter. "Next is setting achievable goals and finding opportunities to incorporate greater physical activity — and less time sitting —  into your daily life. For example, at work, stand up or move for one to three minutes every half hour; and when watching television, stand or exercise during commercials."

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