A new study, reported in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, suggests that one reason being sedentary is so bad for our health, is because it hastens the “hardening” of our arteries with calcified deposits.
The team analyzed data on more than 2,000, middle-aged (with an average age of 50) volunteers in the Dallas Heart Study, who had measures of physical activity based on wearable tracking devices. They were also given coronary artery calcium scans before they began. The researchers found that each additional hour of sedentary time was linked to 12 percent higher odds of having calcium buildup in the coronary arteries, an early sign of coronary heart disease. Those in the study spent between one hour and 11 hours per day being sedentary, and spent between zero and 200 minutes a day doing moderate to vigorous physical activity.
The volunteers who were the most sedentary tended to be older, have diabetes, have high blood pressure, and a higher body mass index- they were also more likely to have coronary calcium. From Reuters, “This is one of the first studies to help tease out the ways in which sedentary time relates to heart disease risk, by evaluating this early marker of atherosclerosis in the heart arteries,” said study coauthor Julia Kozlitina of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.”
After they accounted for age, they were able to link extra hours of sedentary time to a higher risk of coronary artery calcium. However, the authors of the study were quick to point out that a weeks worth of physical activity monitoring isn’t the best representative of a lifetime of exercise habits and that ultimately, being sedentary and accumulated coronary artery calcium are only linked, not absolutes.
Regardless, breaks in sedentary time will be very beneficial for your health; for instance, get up from your desk and move around once in awhile- visit a co-workers desk, grab a cup of tea, etc.
The researchers hope that future studies will look at just how much time is needed away to be most beneficial. But, maintaining a healthy diet, not smoking and light or moderate drinking will also help prevent cardiovascular disease.