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Sitting a major health risk factor

Sitting for too many hours every day can reduce the benefits of daily exercise

In fact, if you exercise regularly but then sit for more than 10 hours per day, it is potential as detrimental to your health as smoking 10 cigarettes a day. That’s according to Dr Stephen Kopecky, a cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic in the United States and Past President of the American Society for Preventive Cardiology.

Dr Kopecky was delivering a keynote address on the opening day of the three-day biennial Life Through Movement International Conference, presented by the Biokinetics Association of Southern Africa (BASA), held recently in Pretoria.

In his talk on the Role of Lifestyle and Physical Activity in Reducing Chronic Disease, he emphasised that getting up and walking vigorously for at least two minutes every two hours could help to counteract the negative effects of being sedentary for too long.

There is an enormous amount of research that clearly indicates that physical activity reduces the risk of developing chronic diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. However, Dr Kopecky said there was significant evidence that four types of physical activity were more beneficial than others – and one of those was not sitting for prolonged periods. The others were aerobic exercise – moderately vigorous to vigorous for 150 minutes per week, or really vigorous aerobic exercise for 75 minutes per week; and muscle-strengthening exercises at least twice a week.

“…getting people moving to make them healthier required people to change their behaviour, which isn’t easy.”

Dr Kopecky also revealed that while physical activity can reduce one’s risk of developing heart disease by one-third, being physically fit can reduce that risk by a further one-third. Interestingly, he said that being fit was far more important to one’s overall health than not being overweight.

“In every study, fitness trumps fatness every time. In fact, the benefit of normal BMI (body mass index) appears to be limited to fit individuals,” he added.

A second keynote speaker at the conference, Dr Craig Nossel, head of Vitality Wellness at Discovery Health, said getting people moving to make them healthier required people to change their behaviour, which isn’t easy.

“One problem is that the benefits of behaviour that contribute to wellness are usually hidden, but the price is immediate. On the other hand, behaviour that contributes to sickness usually delivers an immediate benefit, but the price is hidden. People need incentives to change their behaviour. This is becoming increasingly evident from the data we are gathering from our Vitality programme,” he said.

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