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Get moving: More health risks of sitting reported
July 5th, 2011
11:42 AM ET

Get moving: More health risks of sitting reported

Extensive sitting increases women’s risk of  pulmonary embolism, finds a new study  in the current issue of the British Medical Journal. Women who reported the most inactivity were about twice as likely to experience pulmonary embolism as women reporting the least amount of inactivity.

Extensive immobility, for example being confined to a hospital bed after surgery, has long been a known risk factor for blood clots and pulmonary embolism, or PE, but this study shows that a generally inactive lifestyle increases the risk of PE too.

A pulmonary embolism occurs when a substance, usually a blood clot, travels through the bloodstream and lodges in the main artery leading to the lungs. About one-third of those untreated for their pulmonary embolism die from the condition, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Dr. James Douketis, director of Vascular Medicine at McMaster University, points out that the increased risk of pulmonary embolism for any one individual from extensive sitting is relatively small – only slightly higher than the risks of using oral contraceptives – and that the findings fit into a “common sense” recommendation that people spend less time in sedentary positions.

The authors join other researchers in recommending that public health campaigns target physical inactivity, not just promote physical activity.

The most at-risk group was composed of women sitting for more than 41 hours a week outside of work, while the least at-risk group sat for less than 10 hours a week. Time spent sitting at work was not factored into the study.

Physical activity did reduce the risk for some women when compared with their peers who sat for similar amounts of time, but exercised less.

Researchers used 18 years of data from a longitudinal study of 69,950 female nurses which began in 1976, and was subsequently updated in 1988 to include questions about inactivity at home.

About 90% of the participating women were white, which reflects the demographics of women in nursing when the study began, notes the study authors.


soundoff (18 Responses)
  1. momomiester

    We were meant to move. The more exercise or movement the better. Soon as you slow down you age quicker. Stay active and healthy by pushing your body.

    July 5, 2011 at 16:26 | Report abuse | Reply
    • tens

      Exercise, even long daily exercise, does not counteract the effects of long daily sitting.
      The only way to counter these effects is to sit much less. We need more activity and less chair use, not more structured exercise.

      July 6, 2011 at 06:51 | Report abuse |
  2. Pete

    Was the sittage rate over the 18 years of data in the longitudinal study self-reported?

    July 5, 2011 at 16:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Mr. Charmin

    Great article. Now if I can only find a treadmill that has a toilet attached I'll be in great shape.

    July 5, 2011 at 16:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. kiya

    , These finger wagging articles are not very helpful. Sure, we all know we need more exercise.

    It comes down to sitting at the computer all day and then commuting in a car for about 1-2 hours a day or the alternative, is unemployment. Unless we have a trust fund or a rich patron, or have been able to afford early retirement, most of us don't really have all that much choice. Sure you can go to a gym after work if you have any energy left, or park far from the door, and all that. But for most of us , it is not realistic to get enogh exercise unless someone else is doing the housework, cooking, etc so we can take care of our exercise need.

    It would be interesting to see some proposed solutions to this as a society rather than so much scolding.

    July 5, 2011 at 21:47 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Nina223

      You, are out of touch with reality! I spent 6 years in the Navy, working long shifts all day, sometimes doing computer work, sometimes not. When we were inport, I worked 8 hours a day, went home, took my kids for a walk, why, because I dont want them to become drones wasting away in front of a tv or video game, cooked dinner, cleaned, took care of the housework, took care of the dog. And still managed to find time to fit at least 3 or 4 hours a week at the gym. Now try being deployed, sitting 12 hour watch shifts, on top of your normal work load, on top of drills, exercises, and what not, maybe getting no sleep some nights, and still found a way to get at least 6 hours a week in at our "gym" on the boat. Make a schedule and stick to it, anything else is just an excuse, and an excuse is just a way for you to make yourself feel better about yourself being lazy!

      July 5, 2011 at 22:28 | Report abuse |
    • tens

      No, you are wrong. We do not need more exercise. Studies show exercise has no impact on the deleterious effects of chair sitting. If anything exercise just worsens things due to increases risk of injury from general lack of movement. We need less chair sitting. Much less. And more general activity.

      No one like to hear this because most people sit a lot... and that is at home never mind at work.
      But ignore at your own peril.

      July 6, 2011 at 06:48 | Report abuse |
    • winger541

      You aren't sitting when you do the cooking and housework, are you? I'm sure there are plenty of non-sitting, non-exercising activities you could come up with if you tried.

      July 6, 2011 at 07:20 | Report abuse |
    • Vick

      I don't believe that to be true at all. I work 40 hrs a week, go to school part-time, and manage to work out every other day after work, it actually gives me an energy boost! I also do not drive everywhere, I walk to the bus, and from the bus to work, as well as get home like that (yes, even after working out) every single day, no exceptions. There really are no excuses, many people are just lazy and don't want to do aything physically active, and then lament those who try to warn you about the perils of a sedentary lifestyle. Give it a try, you will actually feel much better.

      July 6, 2011 at 10:45 | Report abuse |
    • Cathy W

      You guys have missed a big part of kiya's point, and have focused on the wrong thing. Plenty of us DO make time for exercise. But, we also spend a lot of time sitting due to work. I spend around 45 hours a week sitting for my job, including commute time. I make the time to exercise, generally 6 days per week, 45-65 minutes per day. And I also sit *some* at home, either at my computer, or watching TV. But the biggest chunk is that 45 hours per week, which I simply cant get out of – we need the money. How are we supposed to get healthy when our entire livelihood depends on sitting?

      July 11, 2011 at 12:00 | Report abuse |
  5. Katie

    A treadmill can be just as problematic if one is not inhabiting the body in a naturally aligned way. Sitting is not the problem so much as HOW one is sitting. The same is true for how one is standing, or bending, or lifting—even sleeping. This video is a big eye-opener. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6oTfN5NDQWE

    July 5, 2011 at 22:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Katie

    A treadmill can be just as problematic if one is not inhabiting the body in a naturally aligned way. Sitting is not the problem so much as HOW one is sitting. The same is true for how one is standing, or bending, or lifting—even sleeping. This video is a big eye-opener. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6oTfN5NDQWE
    It's pretty crazy that this information is so overlooked, when it should be taught in medical school!

    July 5, 2011 at 22:01 | Report abuse | Reply
    • tens

      sitting causes shortening of muscles which do adversely affect the posture... the problem is sitting itself as the position, which is often held for long periods, causes many problems ... the body is meant to move, this is the way the spine nourishes itself..

      "sitting correctly" is nonsense as the best position is the next one... sitting up straight, regardless of how 'freely", is still a fixed position... one need to move and shift

      July 6, 2011 at 06:56 | Report abuse |
  7. sanjosemike

    I need to get up from this computer monitor.

    July 6, 2011 at 09:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Jimbo

    How am I supposed to not sit all day when I have to be at my desk 10 hours a day?

    July 6, 2011 at 09:34 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Steven Polomaine

      Stand up?

      July 12, 2011 at 08:30 | Report abuse |
  9. A.R.Shams

    TO AVOID HEALTH RISKS IT IS BETTER TO KEEP ON MOVING THAN SITTING IDLY.

    July 20, 2011 at 12:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Eve

    used to wonder why my legs would swell when I sat at my computer to work even though I exercised for at least and hour in the mornings. Thanks for this article.

    August 19, 2011 at 23:47 | Report abuse | Reply

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.