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It’s not new information: You probably already know that sitting for prolonged periods of time is harmful for your health. Your phone or fitness watch likely bombards you with reminders to stand throughout the day. New research shows just how necessary those standing breaks throughout the day really are—and how dangerous prolonged periods of sitting can be.
The study, which was Published in Jama Cardiology, and led by researchers at Simon Fraser University and the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, investigated the health risks associated with increased periods of sitting. Researchers found that higher rates of prolonged sitting (i.e. sitting for increasing hours in the day over time) put participants at higher risk for cardiovascular disease and early death. Additionally, researchers found the risks associated with elevated rates of sitting were more prevalent in low-income and lower-middle-income countries.
In the study, participants who sat for more than eight hours a day had a 17 to 50 percent higher chance of experiencing the associated health risks (cardiovascular disease and early death), compared to participants who sat for less than four hours a day.
Why is this particular study significant?
This marked one of the largest surveys on the topic, with more than 100,000 people between the ages of 35 and 70 in 21 countries participating in the research. The timeline for the study was also extensive, giving additional insight into the future impacts of prolonged sitting. Researchers for this study tracked participants anywhere from 2003 to 2021, compiling roughly 18 years of data. (The average follow-up for participants was 11.1 years.)
Previous research on the health risks of prolonged sitting relied on smaller groups of participants, butthis comprehensive survey echoed those earlier results. In 2017, a study of almost 8,000 adults also concluded that higher amounts of prolonged sitting throughout the day could be associated with early death and additional health risks.
So, why exactly is sitting so bad for you?
Depending on how you sit (yes, we’re talking about your posture), as well as how long you sit for, the impact on your health may vary. However, doctors point out that long periods of sitting can cause swelling or aches in your lower legs and feet. In rare cases, blood pooling in these regions can potentially lead to a blood clot. Additionally, if you ever find yourself feeling some back pain after a long day of, well, just sitting, your spine is likely facing some strain and tension as a result of your prolonged slouching. So, yes, it goes beyond the long-term health risks: Prolonged sitting also leads to frustrating aches and pains on a daily basis.
In response to their findings, researchers point to the need for increased physical activity and a decrease in the amount of sedentary time. While your couch is likely very comfortable, there’s no substitute for standing up when it comes to your health. Whether or not you’re craving a standing break or a quick practice, this is your sign to get up from your chair—even just for a few minutes. It’s for your health, after all.