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Research shows that when you sit too much every day, you shorten your life expectancy. But an Indiana University study reveals an antidote that can offset at least some of the poisonous effects of sitting.
Sitting for hours on end hampers your health. Marathon sitting, the kind of inert position people assume at their desks from 9 to 5, is associated with the accumulation of too much LDL (bad) cholesterol, a widening waistline, an increased chance of heart problems and a bigger risk of diabetes.
Sitting also weakens your muscles, slows the pumping of blood to and from the heart, can cause blood to pool in your legs, interferes with the function of the endothelial layers of your arteries (that control blood pressure) and constricts your blood vessels.
“There is plenty of epidemiological evidence linking sitting time to various chronic diseases and linking breaking sitting time to beneficial cardiovascular effects, but there is very little experimental evidence,” says researcher Saurabh Thosar. “We have shown that prolonged sitting impairs endothelial function, which is an early marker of cardiovascular disease, and that breaking sitting time prevents the decline in that function.”
The antidote, say the Indiana researchers: Get up and walk for five minutes every hour. That reverses the harm that sitting does to your leg arteries.
The scientists found that when you sit for three hours, the ability of your arteries to widen and allow more blood to your legs shrinks by 50 percent. But if you walk for five minutes each hour, the arteries keep functioning normally.
“American adults sit for approximately eight hours a day,” says Thosar. “The impairment in endothelial function is significant after just one hour of sitting. It is interesting to see that light physical activity can help in preventing this impairment.”
So don’t just sit there. If you don’t want to be impaired, get out of the chair. For at least five minutes, anyway.