Sedentary behavior, even in healthy women, can increase risk of cardiovascular disease

March 4, 2019

In what is the first prospective study on the association between sedentary habits and cardiovascular disease (CVD) specifically in women, researchers found that women who spend more time sedentary, and for longer periods of time, have a significantly greater risk of CVD, independent of other health factors.

Dr. Kelly Evenson

Dr. Kelly Evenson

Kelly Evenson, PhD, professor of epidemiology at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, is co-author of the paper, “Sedentary Behavior and Cardiovascular Disease in Older Women,” published online Feb. 19, in the journal Circulation.

CVD is the leading cause of death in the U.S., and though it is commonly thought that time spent sedentary is associated with higher risk for CVD, these results are based mostly on self-reporting.

For this study, Evenson and her team examined data from the Objective Physical Activity and Cardiovascular Health (OPACH) Study, in which a group of women, ages 63 to 97, wore accelerometers (devices to measure movement) for four to seven days. They then were followed for CVD for the next 4.9 years.

The team measured time spent sedentary each day, along with the duration of bouts or periods of sedentary time. For the cohort of 5,638 women during that time period, 545 CVD events were recorded. Data showed that women with the highest sedentary time had higher risk for CVD, and those women with both high sedentary time and long sedentary bout durations had a significantly higher risk for CVD.

“This study provides further evidence of an association between sedentary behavior, such as sitting or reclining while awake, which uses very little energy, and cardiovascular disease,” said Evenson. “Importantly, the association persisted regardless of a woman’s overall health, physical function and other cardiovascular risk factors, including whether they also were engaging in moderate to vigorous physical activity.”

Evenson said encouraging less total sedentary time and shorter periods of being sedentary in women 63 years and older could reduce the incidence of CVD.

“Based on the results, as well as findings from other studies,” she said, “it would be advantageous for these women to make an effort to spend less time sitting or to interrupt sitting by standing up and moving around regularly.”


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