Harvard Women's Health Watch

In the journals: Sitting can shorten your life

Over several decades, researchers have identified strong links between a sedentary lifestyle and a host of chronic diseases, including heart disease, breast and colon cancers, diabetes, osteoporosis, and anxiety and depression. Only recently have studies focused on that quintessential sedentary activity — sitting. The results are a real wake-up (and stand-up) call: even if you're otherwise active, the hours you spend in a chair can increase your risk of dying.

That's the conclusion of a study conducted by investigators from the American Cancer Society (ACS) and published in the American Journal of Epidemiology (Aug. 15, 2010). In 1992, researchers selected 53,440 men and 69,776 women, all of whom were generally healthy and already enrolled in the ACS's Cancer Prevention II study. The participants answered annual questionnaires on their daily activities, including time spent sitting as well as the intensity and duration of their leisure-time activities. Participants also provided information on smoking, weight, daily calorie consumption, and alcohol intake.

Over a 14-year period, women who spent six or more hours per day sitting had a 37% increased risk of dying, compared with women who sat for three hours or less. The excess risk was independent of other health factors, including the amount of exercise they got. When overall activity was taken into account, the women who sat the longest and exercised the least were almost twice as likely to die as those who sat the least and exercised the most.

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