Sedentary behavior has long been targeted as its own modifiable risk factor to decrease the risk for heart disease. When we make efforts to decrease sedentary behavior, we hopefully see an increase in health outcomes. In conjunction, but also separate to sedentary behavior, an increase in daily physical activity can been used to positively address health. There has been some debate as to if these two areas should be addressed together or separately. It’s been speculated that even with moderate amounts of physical activity, it doesn’t undue the negative effects of sedentary behavior. However, recent work from the Jackson Heart Study may suggest that “not all sedentary behavior is created equal” (1).
We know there is a link between sedentary behavior and increased cardiovascular disease (CVD) and all-cause mortality. Notably, people of African decent are at greater risk for CVD and pre-mature death than other ethnicities (2). In the Jackson Heart Study, they sought to compare leisure sedentary time, like watching TV, with non-leisure sedentary time, like working in an office at a desk.
Those who participated in more leisurely forms of sedentary time generally experienced less physical activity, had a lower income, higher rates of alcohol consumption, higher rates of smoking, had a poor diet, higher blood pressure, and a lower education level. In contrast, those who had higher sedentary behavior at non-leisure times (at work) were more likely to be female, young, take part in more physical activity, had a better diet, a higher income and education level.
Those who watched greater than 4 hours a day of TV were associated with 50% increased risk for CVD and all-cause mortality compared to those who watched less than 2 hours a day (3). Occupational sitting and sedentary behavior was not associated with the same CVD outcomes of leisure sedentary activity. It’s thought that the prolonged sitting of sedentary behavior at home may be leading to some of these increased risks, while sedentary behavior at work tends to be more interrupted throughout the day.
With this research, we can begin to conclude that all sedentary behaviors may not have the same health outcomes.
It is important to note that even those with high amounts of leisurely sedentary behavior (such as TV watching) but still exercised at moderate to vigorous intensities almost eliminated their CVD risks. This demonstrates that risks for CVD and all-cause mortality differs between leisure and non-leisure sedentary behaviors (3). This further emphasizes the importance of regular physical activity to combat leisure sedentary behavior.
We should address forms of sedentary behavior and physical activity, both together and separately, especially among populations of African decent. We also may not have to address non-leisure sedentary behavior as much as leisure time sedentary behavior. Along with addressing leisure sedentary behavior, we should counter it with more leisure physical activity.
So is sitting at home the same as sitting as work? Well, it seems not to be a direct one-to-one comparison. We should still try to limit sedentary behavior, while simultaneously taking part in more physical activity when possible.
Kimberly Burke is the director of the Adult Fitness Program at Colorado State University, an outreach program through the Department of Health and Exercise Science. Adult Fitness offers exercise opportunities for employees of CSU as well as community members, while providing hands-on learning experiences for health promotion students. To learn more see http://hes.chhs.colostate.edu/outreach/adultfitness/
- Pinto Pereira SM, Ki M, Power C (2012) Sedentary Behaviour and Biomarkers for Cardiovascular Disease and Diabetes in Mid-Life: The Role of Television-Viewing and Sitting at Work. PLOS ONE 7(2): e31132. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0031132
- Mozaffarian, D., Benjamin, E. J., Go, A. S., Arnett, D. K., Blaha, M. J., Cushman, M., … on behalf of the American Heart Association Statistics Committee and Stroke Statistics Subcommittee (2016). Heart disease and stroke statistics-2016 update a report from the American Heart Association. Circulation, 133(4), e38-e48. https://doi.org/10.1161/CIR.0000000000000350
- Types of Sedentary Behavior and Risk of Cardiovascular Events and Mortality in Blacks: The Jackson Heart Study. Jeanette M. Garcia , Andrea T. Duran , Joseph E. Schwartz , John N. BoothIII , Steven P. Hooker , Joshua Z. Willey , Ying Kuen Cheung , Chorong Park , … Originally published 2 Jul 2019 https://doi.org/10.1161/JAHA.118.010406Journal of the American Heart Association. 2019;8