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Posted at 06:00 AM ET, 03/28/2012

Sit at your peril

Sit, sit, sit. It’s what a lot of us do all day long. We work in cubicles (I do). We watch TV. We read. We stare at computer screens. We stare at computer screens. Did I mention that we stare at computer screens?

It’s not news that all this rump-resting is bad for your health, of course. But a big new study out of Australia puts some better numbers on how too much sitting increases the risk of death.

In people 45 years and older, sitting for 11 or more hours a day led to an increased risk of death (from all causes) by about 40 percent over four years, compared to the risk of death in people who sat just four to eight hours a day, the study found.

People plopped on their behinds for eight to 11 hours daily had about a 15 percent increase in risk of death.

And no matter how much exercise the participants reported, sitting for long periods still raised the risk of death.

“Prolonged sitting is a risk factor for all-cause mortality, independent of physical activity,” wrote the authors of the study, which appears this week in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Their figures are based on questionnaires from 222,497 people in Australia. From 2006 through 2010, participants recorded how long they sat; the researchers then tallied deaths among the participants.

Sitting for prolonged periods every day accounted for 6.9 percent of the deaths of study participants, the authors from the Sydney School of Public Health at the University of Sydney report.

Questionnaire studies are not the best — they rely on folks to be honest, of course. But the huge number of participants increases confidence that the results are accurate.

Other research shows that sitting might lead to an early death due to increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and other disorders.

So what can be done about this sedentary tsunami? Some office workers are turning to standing desks; I’ve seen some around the Post, and know a few other writers who love them.

A commentary accompanying the study by two other Australian researchers suggests more extreme measures, including workplace regulations. But it’s hard to imagine the federal government telling companies they mustn’t let workers sit too long.

“The good news,” reads the commentary, “is that increasing light-intensity activity may be a feasible goal for many and offers great health benefits.”

“Light-intensity activity”: That’s academic speak for getting off your rear.

vastagb@washpost.com

Related:

Inactivity boosts cancer risk, research finds

INTERACTIVE: 12 exercises you can do at work

By  |  06:00 AM ET, 03/28/2012

 
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