A new study has found that sedentary behavior, such as sitting for long periods of time, is a risk factor for early death. Even more alarming, researchers found that regular exercise did not decrease that risk of death.
Researchers spent an average of four years tracking the activity of 8,000 participants, aged 45 and older. They found that as total sedentary time increased, so did the risk of death, regardless of age, gender, race, body mass index or exercise habits. The good news is that participants who sat for less than 30 minutes at a time had the lowest risk of early death.
What does this mean for runners?
Many runners think that their exercise routines are enough to negate other unhealthy lifestyle behaviors. However, the study shows that despite activity levels, anyone who sits for long periods of time at work or home is at risk. Running at the beginning or end of the day doesn’t help if the rest of the day is spent sedentary.
“Sit less, move more, and move frequently. I think that is the simple message,” says Keith Diaz, lead author on the study and assistant professor of behavioral medicine at Columbia University Medical Center. “Exercise alone does not appear to overcome the harmful effects of sitting. So runners should be mindful that beyond getting their runs in, they should also be moving frequently throughout their day.”
Younger runners should not dismiss these findings either. Even though the study participants were middle aged and older, Diaz believes that sitting can also affect the health of younger adults.
“Although our study cannot prove this, we think that all age groups could benefit from moving throughout the day.”
How runners can move more
Implementing lifestyle changes that allow for more movement does not have to be difficult, even for runners confided to an office.
“Instead of typing an email to a co-worker, walk to their desk,” suggests Diaz. “Use a small water bottle or cup that requires you to take more frequent trips to the water cooler. Have walking meetings instead of sitting meetings when possible.”
Runners can also add to their fitness with each break. Try short bursts of body weight exercises throughout the day. Lunges, squats and calf raises are easy to do, even in work clothes. Dynamic stretches or easy yoga poses can keep muscles loose. Even just walking up and down a flight of stairs can break up a sedentary day.
Frequent movement should become a runner’s priority. Plan these breaks just as you would plan a run. Put a reminder in your daily to-do list or set calendar alerts.
Diaz suggests taking movement breaks every 30 minutes to those who find themselves sitting for long periods of time.
“We think this one behavior change could reduce the harmful consequences of sitting.”