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Caution: Sitting May be Hazardous to Your Health

Physical Activity Prevents Blood Clots

Have you ever counted the number of hours each day you spend sitting down? Or perhaps you're planning a long flight or drive to visit relatives this holiday season? What you may not know is that sitting for lengthy periods of time could be hazardous to your health-even life threatening.

Researchers now warn that sitting for prolonged periods, even if you exercise regularly, could be seriously harmful to your health. This includes all sitting…at home, while traveling, at work…it's the total number of hours that count. So for the next few days, count the hours you spend seated, whether you're at the computer, driving your car, watching TV, pursuing a hobby, visiting a friend, or just relaxing.

Several studies suggest that those who spend more than a total of six hours a day sitting are more likely to be overweight, have a heart attack or even die. Indications are that women are more at risk than men. Men who sit for more than six hours a day had an 18% increased risk of dying from heart disease. Women who sit for six or more hours a day had a 37% increased risk. *

Mark C. Wyers, MD

The cause of the problem? "Leading a sedentary lifestyle," said Mark C. Wyers, MD, a vascular surgeon at the CardioVascular Institute at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, "is directly linked to many risk factors for heart disease, including obesity and high blood pressure. Fairly modest exercise, spread out over the day, can also improve your cholesterol profile and improve glucose metabolism."

Just as dangerous in the short term is the chance that blood clots will form, according to Dr. Wyers. "Blood clots may form in the deep leg veins if you are inactive for a long time period, whether you're seated while traveling or confined to a chair or bed. This is called a deep-vein thrombosis or DVT. In some cases of DVT, the blood clot may break loose and travel through your bloodstream to the heart and lungs. Large clots that travel can be life threatening.

"It's important to note that the risk of blood clotting rises after age 65. The risk also increases if you are obese, smoke, take certain hormones or birth control pills or have a personal or family history of heart trouble or blood clots."

To reverse the potential dangers of prolonged sitting, experts suggest small exercise breaks throughout the day. These can be in place of or in addition to your regular exercise regimen.

Most people exercise in a single daily session. That is great, but it is just as important to remain moderately active throughout the day, according to Dr. Wyers. Muscles must be activated frequently to get the enzymes that pull fat from the bloodstream working.

Planning travel during the holidays? If you're driving, pull over at rest stops to stretch your legs. If you're flying, walk to the restroom and stroll through the airport to keep your blood circulating.

Since you're likely to be seated while reading this article, why not stand up, stretch and walk around the room before reading our next feature!

* American Journal of Epidemiology, July 22, 2010

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.

Posted December 2010

Contact Information

CardioVascular Institute at
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
330 Brookline Avenue
Boston, MA 02215