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TV sitting is much more damaging to heart health than sitting at work

Experts at Columbia University are reporting that not all types of sedentary behavior have the same effects on heart health.

A collection of previous studies established that sitting for long periods of time is linked to an increased risk of heart disease and premature death, but the current study suggests that sitting at work is not associated with the same risks as sitting in front of the television.

The researchers also found that the detrimental effects of sitting on the couch could be reduced or completely eliminated with consistent exercise.

“Our findings show that how you spend your time outside of work may matter more when it comes to heart health,” said study author Dr. Keith M. Diaz. “Even if you have a job that requires you to sit for long periods of time, replacing the time you spend sitting at home with strenuous exercise could reduce your risk of heart disease and death.”

The investigation was focused on more than 3,500 participants in Jackson, Mississippi, who were followed for almost 8.5 years. The individuals reported how much time they spent sitting while watching TV and sitting while working. The participants also reported how much time they spent exercising in their free time.

The study revealed that individuals who watched the most television, 4 or more hours a day, had a 50 percent higher risk of cardiovascular events and premature death compared to those who watched less than 2 hours of television a day. By contrast, there were no differences in the health risks of people who sat the most or the least at work. 

Even among the most frequent television viewers, brisk walking or aerobic exercise reduced the risk of heart attacks, stroke, or premature death. For example, there was no increased risk in people who watched the most television when they reported exercising for at least 150 minutes of exercise per week.

“It may be that most people tend to watch television for hours without moving, while most workers get up from their desk frequently,” said Diaz. “The combination of eating a large meal such as dinner and then sitting for hours could also be particularly harmful.”

“More research is needed, but it’s possible that just taking a short break from your TV time and going for a walk may be enough to offset the harm of leisure-time sitting. Almost any type of exercise that gets you breathing harder and your heart beating faster may be beneficial.”

Even though sitting at work was found to be less detrimental, Diaz noted that the same approach to movement applies at work. 

“We recognize that it isn’t easy for some workers, like truck drivers, to take breaks from sitting, but everyone else should make a regular habit of getting up from their desks. For those who can’t, our findings show that what you do outside of work may be what really counts.”

The study is published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

Image Credit: Shutterstock/Robcartorres

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