Living well Your Health & Wellness

To stay healthy, exercise, and sit less

Written by Diane Archer

To stay healthy, exercise appears necessary, but not sufficient.  We also should sit less, according to a new study published in Nature: Scientific Reports. Sitting too much may jeopardize your health.

Two and a half hours a week of physical activity is important for a longer life and to deter all kinds of chronic conditions.  You should spend at least 20 minutes a day increasing your heart rate. That benefits your heart, your mind, your muscle, your skin and more.

But, if you exercise for 20-30 minutes a day and then spend the rest of the day sitting, you may still jeopardize your health.  Sitting can increase your likelihood of heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. It can lead to high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and extra body fat around the waist. And, it can hurt your cholesterol.

The Mayo Clinic reports that, if you sit too much, it increases your risk of death from cancer and heart disease. A meta-analysis of 13 studies found that if you sit for eight hours a day straight, without any exercise, your risk of dying is analogous to the risks of dying from obesity and smoking.

The New York Times reports that a 2019 study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology found a link between inactivity and fewer health benefits from exercise. It suggests that sitting for long periods could actually change our bodies. Researchers from the University of Texas at Austin studied a small group of healthy young people who sat four days in a row for at least 13 hours a day.

The people in the study drank a fatty sugary ice cream shake on the fifth day. Not surprisingly, their bodies struggled to process the shake. More interestingly, even when the study participants exercised intensively for an hour at the end of the fourth day, their bodies struggled to process the shake on the fifth day. The metabolic results were similar, high blood sugar and triglyceride levels.

What’s the solution? Take a break from sitting periodically, and walk around a little.

The Nature: Scientific Reports researchers studied 64 men and women sitting for longer and shorter periods of time over four-day sessions. Those who sat more appeared to hurt their heart health. Those who stood more had better insulin and cholesterol levels, likely from increasing their blood flow and muscular contractions over the day.

The more you use your muscles, the more blood sugar you burn. That, in turn, steadies your insulin levels and causes chemical activity that helps to lessen bad cholesterol.

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