Numerous studies have investigated the link between sedentary lifestyles and longevity, with several studies suggesting that sitting for prolonged periods is associated with an increased risk of mortality (Biswas et al., 2015; Patel et al., 2010). One study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that individuals who spent more than six hours per day sitting had a 19% increased risk of all-cause mortality, compared to those who spent less than three hours per day sitting (Chau et al., 2013). Another study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that women who spent more than six hours per day sitting had a 37% increased risk of premature death from any cause, compared to women who spent less than three hours per day sitting (Katzmarzyk et al., 2009)
Sedentary behavior may also impact health span, defined as the period of life free from chronic diseases and disability. A study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that prolonged sitting time was associated with increased disability in older adults, even after adjusting for physical activity levels (Yates et al., 2019).
Sedentary Lifestyles and the Hallmarks of Aging
Sedentary lifestyles can impact several of the 12 hallmarks of aging, including mitochondrial dysfunction, cellular senescence, altered cellular communication, genomic instability, and epigenetic alterations.
Mitochondrial dysfunction, characterized by a decline in the ability of mitochondria to produce energy, has been linked to sedentary behavior. A study published in the journal Diabetologia found that prolonged sitting time was associated with impaired mitochondrial function in skeletal muscle, which could contribute to the development of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes (Whyte et al., 2019).
Cellular senescence, the process by which cells stop dividing and become dysfunctional, has also been linked to sedentary behavior. A study published in the journal Aging Cell found that sedentary behavior was associated with increased markers of cellular senescence in older women (Klenk et al., 2018).
Altered cellular communication, characterized by changes in the production and reception of signaling molecules, may also be impacted by sedentary behavior. A study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that prolonged sitting time was associated with reduced levels of a signaling molecule called interleukin-6 (IL-6), which is involved in immune function and inflammation (Grace et al., 2018). While IL-6 can function as a pro-inflammatory cytokine, it also serves as an anti-inflammatory myokine.
Genomic instability, characterized by DNA damage and mutations, has been linked to sedentary behavior. A study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology found that prolonged sitting time was associated with increased DNA damage in peripheral blood lymphocytes (Cooper et al., 2016).
Finally, epigenetic alterations, changes in gene expression that are not caused by changes to the DNA sequence, have also been linked to sedentary behavior. A study published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise found that sedentary behavior was associated with altered DNA methylation patterns in muscle tissue (Tremblay et al., 2017).
Actionable Guidance to Reduce Sedentary Behavior
It’s important to take action to reduce your sitting time as much as possible. Consider using a standing desk (Alkhajah et al., 2012), taking frequent breaks to stand, stretch, or walk around, and finding ways to incorporate more physical activity into your daily routine (Owen et al., 2010). One study found that breaking up prolonged sitting time with short bouts of activity, such as walking, every 30 minutes can improve markers of cardiometabolic health (Duvivier et al., 2018).
Another way to reduce sedentary behavior is to engage in regular physical activity. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity, or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, per week (WHO, 2020). This can include activities such as brisk walking, cycling, or swimming.
Incorporating physical activity into your daily routine can be as simple as taking the stairs instead of the elevator, walking or biking to work, or participating in a fitness class or sport. Strength training exercises, such as lifting weights, can also help improve muscle mass and function, which can counteract some of the negative effects of sedentary behavior (Garber et al., 2011).
In addition to reducing sedentary behavior and engaging in regular physical activity, other lifestyle factors, such as maintaining a healthy diet, getting adequate sleep, managing stress, and proper supplementation, can also contribute to overall health and longevity.
Physical Activity and Longevity
Sedentary behavior, defined as sitting or lying down with low energy expenditure, has been linked to an increased risk of mortality and reduced health span. Prolonged sitting time can impact several of the hallmarks of aging, including mitochondrial dysfunction, cellular senescence, altered cellular communication, genomic instability, and epigenetic alterations. To reduce sedentary behavior, it’s important to take action to incorporate more physical activity into your daily routine and to break up prolonged sitting time with short bouts of activity. Engaging in regular physical activity, maintaining a healthy diet, getting adequate sleep, and managing stress can also contribute to overall health and longevity.
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