NEW YORK — While it is generally accepted knowledge at this point that sitting for long periods of time isn’t doing your health any favors, new research conducted at Columbia University finds that time spent sitting in front of a television is much worse for heart health than sitting at work.
The study concluded that sitting in front of a TV was associated with a greater risk of heart disease and death, while sitting at a desk or counter for work was not. Additionally, researchers found that moderate to vigorous exercise may significantly undo the negative effects of all that binge watching.
“Our findings show that how you spend your time outside of work may matter more when it comes to heart health,” explains study author Keith M. Diaz, assistant professor of behavioral medicine at Columbia University, in a release. “Even if you have a job that requires you to sit for long periods of time, replacing the time you spend sitting at home with strenuous exercise could reduce your risk of heart disease and death.”
A great deal of research has already established that sitting for long periods of time on a day-to-day basis increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and death. However, most of those studies did not follow subjects over time, only relied on physical activity monitors unable to distinguish between different types of sedentary behavior, and primarily focused on individuals of European descent. Consequently, this study’s authors wanted to collect more detailed information on African Americans, a racial group with higher rates of heart disease when compared to caucasians, over a long period time.
Researchers followed 3,592 African Americans living in Jackson, Missouri for close to eight-and-a-half years. During that time, the study’s subjects reported how long they were sitting in front of the TV each day, as well as time spent sitting at work. Participants also reported how much time they were spending on exercise per day.
Participants who spent four hours or more watching television each day had a 50% greater risk of heart disease and death compared to those who spent two hours or less in front of the television. Interestingly, subjects who sat the most at work actually had the same health risks as subjects who sat down the least in general. This indicates a clear discrepancy in the heart health effects of sitting at work and sitting in front of a TV.
However, even those who watched the most television still greatly reduced their risk of a heart attack or stroke just by getting in some physical activity each day, even activities as simple as a brisk jog or quick aerobic exercise. In fact, there was absolutely no increased risk of a heart attack or stroke in people who watched four or more hours of TV per day but also participated in 150 minutes of exercise per week.
“It may be that most people tend to watch television for hours without moving, while most workers get up from their desk frequently,” Diaz says. “The combination of eating a large meal such as dinner and then sitting for hours could also be particularly harmful.”
Although this study focused on African Americans, researchers say they believe its findings are relevant for anyone who is spending a lot of time sitting down and watching television.
The study is published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.