An American Cancer Society study finds women who sit for more than six hours a day were about 40 percent more likely to die during the course of the 14-year study than those who sat fewer than three hours per day.

An American Cancer Society study finds women who sit for more than six hours a day were about 40 percent more likely to die during the course of the 14-year study than those who sat fewer than three hours per day.


Men were about 20 percent more likely to die. Dr. Gustavo Mosquera, a family medicine physician at Family Medical Center of Chatham, Ill., provides the answers on what this study means for adults who sit a lot at work in this Q-and-A.


Q. What are problems with sitting too much?


A. Multiple studies show that sitting is not good for your health. The large American Cancer Society study mentioned above focused on the numbers of people who died.


Other studies have focused on specific conditions affecting the most Americans, such as cardiovascular disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes and depression. In those studies, too, extended periods of sitting increased risks of illness.


Australian research has found that long periods of sitting down, even in people who did a lot of exercise otherwise, were associated with worse indicators of cardio-metabolic function and inflammation, such as larger waist circumferences, lower levels of HDL ("good") cholesterol and higher levels of C-reactive protein (an important marker of inflammation) and triglycerides (blood fats).


However, the study also found that even in people who spent a long time sitting down, the more breaks they took during this time, the smaller their waists and the lower the levels of C-reactive protein.


Even when adults meet physical activity guidelines, sitting for prolonged periods can compromise metabolic health. Television time and objective measurement studies show deleterious associations, and breaking up sedentary time is beneficial. Sitting time, TV time and time sitting in automobiles increase premature mortality risk.


An article published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine claims: In the future, the focus in clinical practice and guidelines should not only be to promote and prescribe exercise, but also to encourage people to maintain their intermittent levels of daily activities that involve movement. 


Q. Could sitting too much lead to such problems as cardiovascular disease, obesity and diabetes?


A. A growing body of research shows long periods of physical inactivity raises your risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, cancer and obesity. In January 2010, British experts linked prolonged periods of sitting to a greater likelihood of disease. That same month, Australian researchers reported each hour spent watching TV is linked to an 18 percent increase in the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, perhaps because that time is spent sitting down.


Recent research suggests that inactivity increases the chances of developing diabetes and heart disease, independently of how often someone works out. The researchers admit scientists do not yet fully understand why spending long periods sitting down can increase the chances of developing health problems.


Q. Why is standing better?


 A. Standing, which involves isometric contraction of the antigravity (postural) muscles and only low levels of energy expenditure, elicits electromyographic and skeletal muscle changes. However, in the past, this form of standing would be construed as a "sedentary behavior" because of the limited amount of bodily movement and energy expenditure entailed. This highlights the need for an evolution of the definitions used for sedentary behavior research. Within this perspective, standing would not be a sedentary activity.


Q. What can people do to not sit as much at work?


A. The American Cancer Society report suggests that plenty of breaks, even if they are as short as one minute, seem to be beneficial.


Small changes could help, like standing up to take phone calls; walking to see a colleague rather than phoning or emailing; and centralizing trash cans and printers so you have to walk to them.


If you are sitting for long periods, it's really important you take regular breaks by getting up on your feet. Regular physical activity is essential to protect cardiovascular health.


Other things that you can do are:




Climbing the stairs rather than using elevators and escalators, or walking to the store rather than driving.

Take five minutes of break during sedentary work,

Stretching, turning and bending.  

Mixing standing and sitting. 

Adopting new habits. Standing uses more muscles and burns more calories than sitting, so train yourself to stand whenever you talk on the telephone.

Rearranging the office. Move trashcans out of cubicles to make people walk to throw out garbage. Relocate water coolers by windows, where people will want to congregate. 

Q. What are types of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activities the government recommends that can help?


A. In 1995, the American College of Sports Medicine and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention jointly issued national guidelines called Physical Activity and Public Health, which were updated in 2007. The government's recommendation was specific: "Moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity for a minimum of 30 minutes on five days each week or vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity for a minimum of 20 minutes on three days each week."


If you are walking, this needs to be a fast walking so your heart rate goes up and you burn calories.


Q. Also in the study, women were found to more likely to die from sitting than men. Why would that be?


A. Women will be in higher risk because of the hormonal changes. We know that estrogen is a pro-coagulable factor for a female. This is why physicians are very cautious while giving oral contraceptive pills to women who smoke –– the risk for deep venous thrombosis, pulmonary embolism, myocardial infarction or stroke increases exponentially. Adding another risk factor like sedentarism won't be good. This is why your physician will encourage you in every office visit to be active.


Dr. Gustavo Mosquera is a family medicine physician at Family Medical Center of Chatham, Ill., part of Memorial Physician Services.


-- Be Healthy Springfield (Ill.)