Women who spend less time sitting live a longer, healthier life. And it seems to make an especially big difference for non-Hispanic women of color. This message comes from a new study based on 92,234 women followed for 12 years in the Women’s Health Initiative. Women who sat the least—4 hours a day or less—were about 20% less likely to die for any reason, 38% less likely to die of heart disease, and 42% less likely to die of cancer than women who sat the most—11 hours a day or more. The difference for black women was much bigger, with the most active 37% less likely to die of any cause, and the difference for Asians, Native Americans, and Pacific Islanders was even bigger—45% less likely. In terms of cancer, greater activity made a bigger difference for women under 70, who were one-third less likely to die of cancer than the very inactive women.
So, the numbers all add up—moving every day as much as you can is critical, probably more so than a fitness routine after a long day sitting at your desk. And if you have a desk job? Stick to your fitness routine, but take frequent little breaks just to get up and move around the office.
When you’re seated, electrical activity in your muscles slows down — especially in the powerful muscles of the legs and lower body. This causes your body’s calorie-burning rate to drop to about one per minute. That’s just a third of the rate you’d reach while walking around. After just a day, inactivity lowers insulin effectiveness and increases your risk of Type 2 diabetes and obesity. One study of overall sitting time in US adults found that women who sat for more than 6 hours a day had a 40% higher death rate. Another study of television viewing time in Australia concluded that for each additional hour of television a person sat and watched per day their risk of dying rose by 11%. Prolonged sitting was also found to double the risk of diabetes and heart disease — a risk that wasn’t eliminated by regular exercise. Authors of the diabetes study said that the average American adult spends 50% to 70% of their day sitting.
How to fix this? If you have a desk job, get up and take a short, brisk walk every hour. Instead of always emailing, walk around your office to talk to coworkers. Take the stairs and use a restroom on a different floor. If you’re willing to make an investment, there are standing desks for sale (or just pile up books on your desk for a do-it-yourself fix) and even treadmill desks. After work, park a little farther from the store on those errands and enjoy the extra exercise. Rise, shine and start moving!
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JoAnn V. Pinkerton, MD, NCMP