If you have a desk job, it is pretty easy to spend most of your day on your bum. Even after you punch the clock, chances are there will be more time sitting between your commute and the nightly intake of your favorite shows. You know you should at least walk a bit more during the day.
If you are like most people, it is difficult to get motivated. But recent research might push you in the right direction – especially if you are a man.
In a study published Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, researchers looked at the amount of time 4,486 men and 1,845 women spent sitting during work, school and at home. They examined obesity among participants, ages 20 to 79, by measuring the size of their waistlines and percentage of body fat. No matter the metric, the more men sat, the likelier they were to be obese.
“Men who sat more were more likely to be obese, and that held even when we adjusted for their fitness level,” said Carolyn E. Barlow, who led the research team at the Cooper Institute in Dallas. “The other risk factors that we looked at – cholesterol and glucose – were also not associated with sitting time. That was a bit surprising.”
The research team asked participants to report the frequency and duration of 11 types of physical activity, including walking, running and bicycling. Nearly half of the men reported sitting three-fourths of the day, while only 13 percent of women said the same. But even women who sat for long periods of time had lower levels of obesity than men, according to the study.
Researchers did not pinpoint a root cause for the higher rates of obesity in sedentary men, and said further research is needed to explore the relationship. Barlow said one limitation of the study is participants self-reported their activity level. Participants were also primarily white, generally healthy and well educated, making it difficult to apply the results to more diverse populations.
“We’re limited to some degree with the population who comes in because they’re all self-referred or corporate-referred patients,” Barlow said. “We definitely want to look at the changes in sitting time and how that associates with different risk factors among patients who come back to the clinic.”
The new findings build on a body of research that shows a relationship between sedentary lifestyles and increased risk for chronic conditions and premature death. One study in the Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice journal found a connection between prolonged sitting and Type 2 diabetes, which occurs when the body fails to use or make enough insulin to convert blood sugar into energy.
Another study from the University Health Network in Toronto concluded that people who sit too much every day are not only at risk of diabetes, but also heart disease, cancer and shorter life spans, even if they work out. People who exercise are at lower risk of developing those health conditions, but researchers said their activity failed to entirely counteract the risks that came with prolonged sitting.
Still, incorporating exercise into your day, in addition to cutting down the amount of time you spend sitting, can lower the risk for diabetes, heart disease or stroke, Barlow said. Even short, periodic bursts of activity can do the trick. And for those in need of reminders, there is an entire line of products that provide an extra nudge, tracking steps and sending alerts to get you moving.
There is even a formula to shake up your sedentary routine. Ulf Ekelund, a professor at the Norwegian School of Sports Sciences, found one hour of exercise – anything from a stroll in the park to biking to work – is a good start if you sit eight hours a day. In other words, for every four hours of sitting, you need at least 30 minutes of exercise, Ekelund said in a study released earlier this year. You don’t have to do it all at once; sprinkling some activity throughout the day is just fine, he said.