Why too much sitting time increases risk of disease even if you exercise

WATCH: Crystal Goomansingh reports on a new study that shows how sitting too much increases your risk of disease.

TORONTO – If you’re sitting at a desk all day, then hitting the gym to work up a sweat, you aren’t off the hook just yet. A new Canadian study is warning that too much sedentary time is putting you at risk of disease and death – even if you exercise regularly.

Canadian scientists at Toronto Rehabilitation Institute say 30 minutes to an hour of being on your feet isn’t enough to stave off disease.

“What we found was that sitting time is linked to higher risk of death, higher risk of heart disease, higher risk of cancer, cancer-related deaths, heart disease-related deaths and diabetes,” the study’s lead author, Dr. David Atler, told Global News.

“That relationship is very consistent and that is after controlling or adjusting for somebody’s exercise that they do…the bottom line: even if we do a half hour or hour of exercise per day, it does not give us reassurance that sitting for the other 23 hours of the day is okay,” he said.

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Atler is a senior scientist at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute and associate professor at the University of Toronto. His study, published Monday night in the Annals of Internal Medicine, is a meta-analysis reviewing studies zeroing in on sedentary behaviour.

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Atler suggests that an average person spends more than half of his or her day being sedentary – we watch television, we work at a computer, for example. Those who don’t exercise at all have a more pronounced health risk than their counterparts who work out, he said.

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“We need further research to better understand how much physical activity is needed to offset the health risks associated with long sedentary time and optimize our health,” he said.

He says the mechanisms behind sitting and its hazards aren’t fully understood yet. Our metabolisms could slow down, we burn less energy, fat and fuel leading to excess weight. That puts us at risk of diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.

In 2013, Dr. Mike Evans — known for his videos on current health issues — offered a new challenge to Canadians in a campaign he called “Make our day harder.”

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READ MORE: Doctor calls on Canadians to ditch the shortcuts, add time on their feet

“How about you and I start a movement – an anti-pushing-the-button-so-the-door-opens-automatically-for-us movement,” Evans, a St. Michael’s Hospital physician and University of Toronto scientist, said.

He says he knows it sounds counter-intuitive but in a world of convenience and oversimplifying — electric toothbrushes, vacuums on autopilot, online shopping and remote controls for everything — adjustments need to be made in our daily lives to carve out a space for activity.

Atler says he does it: he stands up to complete his tasks whenever he can, he’ll take his laptop to his stationary bike or elliptical and he works out as he checks emails or surfs the Internet.

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Read the full study here.

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