Are you sitting your way to heart disease?

Research reveals an alarming link between prolonged sitting and cardiovascular disease. Find out how to reduce your risk.

How long have you spent parked on your backside today?

Worryingly, we are spending more time being sedentary than ever before, as screens and desk time dominate our lives.

Research warns too much sitting can have serious implications — particularly for our cardiovascular health.

In the lead-up to Heart Week, we are being urged to reduce the time we spend sitting, move more, and book a heart health check.

How does sitting impact our heart health?

Heart disease is Australia’s biggest killer — and excessive sitting increases the risk of developing it by 30 per cent.

Professor David Dunstan, of the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute and Deakin University, says research is emerging that seven hours of sitting, accumulated across a day, puts people in the danger zone.

He says too much sedentary time can undo some of the benefits of exercise.

“There are multiple consequences on the body,” Prof Dunstan, who is head of the Baker-Deakin Department of Lifestyle and Diabetes, says.

“Because muscles are the largest user of glucose in the body, remaining idle for long periods of time can lead to build-up of glucose in the bloodstream and inflammation.

“Reduced blood flow puts us in a less than optimal state for our body’s regulatory processes like clearing blood glucose and controlling blood pressure.”

How sedentary are we?

You may want to sit down before reading this — but don’t.

Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show only one in five adults aged 18-64 years met the physical activity guidelines in 2022, with nearly half of employed adults in this age group describing their day at work as mostly sitting.

“Clearly, we are seeing that people are spending more time being sedentary through the day than being active,” Prof Dunstan says.

“The 2020 World Health Organisation guidelines now provide recommendations on both physical activity and also sedentary behaviour.”

Prof Dunstan says while working from home has been beneficial in many ways, anecdotal reports suggest it has led to the loss of incidental exercise.

Modern approaches to reducing sitting at work

The Baker Institute is leading by example, with QR codes available for staff to download walking routes near the offices, from short to longer walks.

Other ideas to help reduce sedentary behaviour at work include:

  • Wearable technologies that alert users about inactive time
  • Height-adjustable desks
  • Walking meetings
  • Active commuting — walking or cycling to work

How to sit less and move more

The Heart Foundation says walking for at least 30 minutes, five days per week, can reduce the risk of heart disease by 35 per cent.

Elizabeth Calleja, the foundation’s senior advisor for physical activity, says for those who struggle to get out the door, the 30 minutes can be split up throughout the day.

She says it is crucial to build up cardiovascular fitness and muscle strength, to help protect from a range of chronic diseases.

“It’s about breaking up those periods of sitting,” Elizabeth says.

“Walking is free… and you don’t need any special equipment.”

How healthy is your ticker?

As part of Heart Week, the Heart Foundation is urging people aged 45 and over who don’t have heart disease to undergo a Medicare-subsidised heart health check with their GP.

The 20-minute check-up assesses the risk of heart attack or stroke in the next five years.

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Written by Elissa Doherty.