The more you sit, the more you harm your future health. The evidence is piling up from big studies that sitting is a health risk all on its own. So even if you exercise regularly, sitting for long periods can undermine all that good work. But with small changes, you can combat that risk.
The news first made a splash in January 2014 with a study of some 93,000 midlife and older women (ages 50-79) after menopause in the famous Women’s Health Initiative. The women who were sedentary more than 11 hours a day—not hard to rack up with a desk job and some evening TV—had a 12 percent higher risk of dying early than women who were inactive for 4 hours a day or less. The most inactive women also had a 13 percent higher risk of dying of cardiovascular disease, a 27 percent higher risk of dying of coronary heart disease, and a 21 percent higher risk of dying from cancer.
Then in February 2014, the news got worse when another big study came out. This one included some 2,000 adults age 60 and older in National Health and Nutrition Examinations Surveys (NHANES) who had their activity measured with a monitor they wore around their waist.
For each hour a day that these men and women were inactive, their risk of becoming physically disabled went up 46 percent—even if they spent time doing moderate-to-vigorous exercise. The risk was even higher for people over age 70 and for African Americans.
The surveys also showed that Americans 60 and older sit a lot. The average was 9 out of 14 waking hours a day. And two thirds of the people in the study were at least that sedentary.
What’s So Bad About Sitting?
It isn’t clear why sitting itself is such a risk for problems, but the researchers involved with the studies speculated on a number of possible reasons:
But maybe a half hour of exercise just can’t make up for the slow-down of 9 hours of inaction.
Little Changes Go a Long Way
There’s good news in all this bad news: It probably doesn’t take much to help offset the effects of inactivity. The key is to get in as much no-sitting time as you can. Here are ways you can do that:
But Don’t Give Up Your Workouts
Cutting your sit time is important, but it doesn’t mean you should forget about your moderate-to-vigorous exercise program. Here’s what exercise can do for women at menopause and beyond:
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