Sitting around is a health hazard

Medical research seems to intersect with common sense a lot.

Medical research seems to intersect with common sense a lot.

Just this week, scientists have reaffirmed that it’s a bad idea to smoke around your kids and dangerous for kids to get 20 per cent of their daily calories from sugar, but that it’s a good idea for couch potatoes of any age to get up and move around every so often.

But don’t think that researchers are simply telling us things we should already know. Checking into the details can eventually help guide us to better lifestyles.

Start with the study published by an Australian online Jan. 12 in the European Heart Journal — although the data come from surveys of more than 4,700 Americans over the age of 20.

Specifically, they all wore a motion detector on the hip for seven days to see how long they sat and how much they took a break from sitting.

The least amount of sedentary time for any subject was 1.8 hours a day; the most was 21.2 hours a day. The least number of times anyone got up per day was 14; the most was an average of 179 times a day (you can almost hear the couch springs groan).

What was telling, though, was the results of lab tests that went along with the monitoring.

People who spent the most time sitting were most likely to have higher levels of blood fats, lower levels of “good” cholesterol and higher levels of a blood protein that signals artery inflammation. That held true even among people who spent some time each day exercising, but didn’t move much otherwise.

Do you have a desk job, that involves sitting in front of computer all day? This is about your, even if you job three times a week.

People who did a lot of sitting, but also took a lot of breaks to get up and move around, had smaller waists and reduced amounts of inflammation.

Dr. Genevieve Healy, a researcher at the University of Queensland, Australia, said most of us typically sit for at least half the day, working, going to school and commuting and then in front of one or more screens at home.

“But our research shows that even small changes, as little as standing up for one minute, might help to lower this risk.”

The smoking study, appearing in the American Heart Association journal Circulation, found a direct link to higher blood pressure and parental smoking in children of kindergarten age.

German researchers followed more than 4,200 children, and found that those with at least one smoking parent were 21 per cent more likely to have an upper-level reading for beating-heart (systolic) blood pressure than those with nonsmoking parents.

The risk persisted even when other blood-pressure factors like obesity or prematurity were taken into account. And smoking by mothers generally had more impact than was the case with dads, since young children are more likely to be home with them, the researchers said.

Then there’s the sugar. Another survey, this time of 2,157 teens ages 12 to 18, found that average daily consumption of sugar or other sweetener amounts to more than 28 teaspoons, or 476 calories a day.

The teens consuming the highest levels of sweeteners had lower levels of good cholesterol and higher levels of the bad fats compared to those who ate and drank the least sweeteners, researchers at Emory University report in the same issue of Circulation.

The difference came to about 9 per cent. And overweight and obese teens at the highest level of sweetener consumption also showed increased signs of insulin resistance, a sign of diabetes risk.

“Adolescents are eating 20 per cent of their daily calories in sugars that provide few if any other nutrients,” said Jane Welsh, a postdoctoral fellow who led the study. “Sweet things have lost their status as treats.”

She said parents and teens need to pay more attention to the sweetener content on labels — and consider drinking more plain water.