Over 5 million people around the world die from causes related to a lack of physical activity. Two research teams at UC San Diego School of Medicine sought to understand sedentary lifestyles, with one study finding that even mild physical activity, such as only standing, may reap health, and another that Americans are still sitting too much.
Stand up, your life may depend on it
Physical activity (MVPA) reduces the risk of several age-related chronic diseases, like heart disease, type two diabetes, numerous cancers, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. However, in the study published at Journals of Gerontology: Medical Sciences, researchers discovered that simply standing still was correlated with lower risk for mortality.
Led by Andrea LaCroix, PhD, chief of epidemiology at UC San Diego participants wore a research-grade accelerometer for seven days to get accurate measures of just how long they spent sitting, standing still or moving.
Participants that spent the most time standing had a 37 percent lower risk of death when compared to the group who did not stand up as frequently. While the maximum group was standing still nearly 90 minutes per day, a lower risk of death has been observed by standing for as few as 30 minutes every day. The favorable effects of standing were even more powerful when participants were standing and moving around at the exact same moment.
“Avoiding prolonged sedentary time and engaging in regular physical activity are key strategies for older Americans to improve their prospects for healthy aging,” said first author Purva Jain, a doctoral candidate and research fellow. “Specifically low-intensity physical activities, such as standing, are important to study due to their feasibility and safety. During our research, we found that simply spending more time on your feet could have important health benefits, such as a decreased risk of mortality.”
Adults in the United States aged 65 and older struggle to fulfill physical activity guidelines, which normally call for 150 minutes of activity each week. According to the researchers, many Americans spend around 11 hours every day sitting. Females are specifically in an elevated risk of developing or having health issues related to inactivity.
“Standing is a feasible approach to interrupt long periods of time sitting that takes place throughout the day,” said John Bellettiere, PhD, professor of epidemiology at UC San Diego School of Medicine. “We find this most beneficial for older adults who may not be able to partake in moderate-to-vigorous activities any more, but can still follow a healthy aging lifestyle safely just by replacing sitting with standing up more.”
“This is the first study of its kind where we were able to decipher between the benefits of standing still versus standing and moving around,” said senior author Andrea LaCroix, PhD, “In doing so, we were able to provide rigorous evidence that even standing still results in positive health benefits.”
A sedentary life and modern technology
In a different study, published at BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine, researchers with UC San Diego School of Medicine used physical activity data collected in a survey of farmers in rural Malawi, whose lives are minimally affected by technology, and then compared it to lifestyles of Americans.
With this comparison, the team sought to investigate the potential Impact of technology-dominated lifestyles sedentary time and physical activity.
Their findings showed substantially higher levels of activity amongst the Malawi population versus participants at the USA. Specifically, Americans spend nearly two more hours of sedentary period each day compared to Malawians.
“Being able to compare our current activity levels in the United States to the lifestyle of famers in Malawi really puts an exclamation point on how inactive we are,” said first author Michael Pratt, MD, director of the Institute for Public Health at UC San Diego. “We evolved to be active beings and we have left that behind for the luxury of certain modern advancements.”
Farmers in the Zomba and Ntcheu districts were also recruited. Virtually all the sampled farmers lacked power in the home and did not possess motorized vehicles. Conversely, computers, mobile phones, TVs and automobiles dominate the daily lives of many Americans, resulting in increased sedentary period and less need for physical action.
To quantify the difference in activity levels in these two samples the data were then compared to a sample of 3,258 Americans in the exact same age range measured in previous studies for the identical amount of time. Levels of MVPA and mild activity in adults in Malawi were considerably higher and sedentary period were lower compared to those detected in the United States’ sample. Researchers used near-identical data collection, scoring and analyses to make their conclusions.
The Malawian farmers met current physical activity guidelines 94 Percent of their time, compared to just 55 percent of the United States sample. However, the results might have a different significance in Malawi where hard work in predominantly subsistence and non-mechanized agriculture on family farms is essential for household food security.
“This study hints at the profound impact of technologically oriented lifestyles that are becoming ever-more dominant throughout the world,” said James Sallis, PhD, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Family Medicine and Public Health at UC San Diego School of Medicine. “As humans, we are designed to be active, and now we know how much our health depends on it. For people in most high-income countries, we need to put a higher priority on efforts to help them get out of their chairs and move around more throughout the day. For highly-active people in low-income countries, food security is a higher priority.”