‘Sitting disease’ more harmful than originally thought

Shereen Dindar
Contributing Writer
Shine On

If you're someone who thinks your end-of-day workout counteracts sitting at a desk all day, we've got bad news for you.

New research suggests that seniors who sit for prolong periods of times have an increased risk of a disability with daily activities, regardless of the amount of time they spend exercising.

"This is the first time we've shown sedentary behaviour was related to increased disability regardless of the amount of moderate exercise," says Dorothy Dunlop, lead study author and medical professor at Northwestern University. "Being sedentary is not just a synonym for inadequate physical activity."

Also see: Surprising health risks of sitting at a desk

Her study adds to a growing body of research that shows "sitting is the new smoking" in terms of its effect on health. Past research suggests that excessive sitting contributes to obesity, heart disease and diabetes -- leading some to refer to the phenomenon as "sitting disease."

The study, published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health, examined the physical activity levels of 2,286 American adults aged 60 and older from 2002 to 2005. Participants wore accelerometers to measure how frequently they sat or exercised.

Dunlop and her team discovered that for every additional hour a day spent sitting the risk of a disability increased by 50 per cent.

For the purposes of the study, disability was defined as having challenges with daily activities such as eating, dressing, bathing, getting in and out of bed, and walking across a room.

Also see: How to burn calories without leaving your desk

“There are some unique things about sitting that could contribute to poor health. When you are sitting, you are using fewer muscles and your circulation slows down,” Dunlop tells the Toronto Star.

Greg Wells, a kinesiology professor at the University of Toronto, says the study results fall in line with other recent research on the topic.

“If you sit for eight hours a day, that actually damages your health, and if you do an hour of exercise in the evening, that’s great for you, but it doesn’t necessarily counteract the damage you are doing by being immobile,” he tells the Toronto Star.

He recommends incorporating 20 seconds of stretching or movement for every 20 minutes of sitting.