Heightened sedentary time linked to diabetes and heart disease, in spite of exercise

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Being inactive for several hours each day could increase the risk of developing diabetes and heart disease even with regular exercise, new research suggests.

Researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Health Systems, United States analysed data of 12,000 Hispanic residents of Chicago, Miami, San Diego and the Bronx (New York) between 2008 and 2011.

The participants wore activity monitors for 16 hours daily for one week. On average, they were inactive for roughly 12 hours per day. The researchers then divided the participants into four groups, based on the amount of time that they were inactive. The least active of the four groups had:

  • Six per cent lower levels of high density lipoprotein (HDL), also known as “good” cholesterol
  • 16 per cent higher levels of triglycerides, which can increase the risk of heart disease
  • Higher levels of sugar in the body
  • Lower ability to respond to insulin, indicating a risk of diabetes

More hours of sedentary time were still linked to a heightened risk of diabetes and heart disease even when participants did 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity aerobic exercise, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise – meeting the World Health Organisation’s physical activity guidelines.

Lead author Qibin Qi, Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Health System in New York, told Reuters: “The take-home message is that reducing sedentary behaviour is very important for maintaining favourable levels of blood lipids and sugars, and thus for the prevention of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, even in those who already meet physical activity recommendations.”

There were two limitations with the study, though. The motion trackers assigned to the participants were unable to distinguish between sitting and standing, while the study looked at risk factors of heart disease but not the outcomes, such as heart attack or stroke.

The study was published in the Circulation, the journal of the American Heart Association.