Sitting for too long without movement? 5 ways it can increase risk of heart attack

By, New Delhi
Jul 24, 2023 11:36 AM IST

From plaque buildup in arteries to elevated blood pressure, here's how sitting too much is affecting your heart health.

Sitting for long hours working at your desk, watching television or lazing around can put you at risk of heart attack and stroke apart from a range of other health issues. Courtesy the fast-paced life and technology making rapid strides, leading an active lifestyle has become more of a conscious choice than a necessity. Sitting much like alcohol, smoking and junk food has become a risk factor for chronic diseases including cardiovascular ailments. When you are moving less, you are not only accumulating more calories than you require or can burn, you are also doing an injustice to your bones and muscles that can become stiff due to lack of motion. (Also read: 5 dangerous sitting postures to avoid; exercises to correct them)

When you are sitting in one position without moving, it can also affect your blood circulation and blood pressure which can further aggravate health issues. (Pexels)
When you are sitting in one position without moving, it can also affect your blood circulation and blood pressure which can further aggravate health issues. (Pexels)

When you are sitting in one position without moving, it can also affect your blood circulation and blood pressure which can further aggravate health issues. Excessive sitting is also linked with atherosclerosis, the buildup of plaque in the arteries, which could make you susceptible to heart attack. Your LDL cholesterol levels are also bound to increase when you are leading a sedentary lifestyle, not including exercises and walking into your routine, and not being mindful about walking a few steps or stretching your body at regular intervals while at a desk job.

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"With a gradual change in everyday life, majority of the population spends more time sitting at one place. A sedentary lifestyle has become increasingly common, with many individuals spending extended periods sitting at desks, in front of screens, or during commutes. Unfortunately, this excessive sitting has been likened to the dangers of smoking, earning the phrase 'sitting is the new smoking.' In many cases, it has been seen that sitting for long hours can have detrimental effects on heart health, contributing to an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases. Hence, it is very important to know different ways due to which excessive sitting can harm your heart and discuss the importance of breaking free from sedentary habits," says Dr Abhishek Singh, Consultant – Cardiology, Manipal Hospitals, Ghaziabad.

Dr Singh explains how sitting for longer hours can impact your heart health and increase risk of heart attack.

1. Increased risk of atherosclerosis

Atherosclerosis, the buildup of plaque in the arteries, is a significant risk factor for heart disease. Excessive sitting promotes a sedentary lifestyle, leading to reduced blood flow and decreased efficiency in the body's mechanisms to clear out fatty deposits. This can accelerate the development of atherosclerosis, narrowing the arteries and compromising heart health.

2. Impaired blood circulation

Sitting for extended periods restricts blood circulation, particularly in the lower limbs. This can lead to the formation of blood clots, deep vein thrombosis (DVT), and ultimately, an increased risk of heart attacks or strokes. Regular movement and exercise are essential to keep blood flowing smoothly and prevent these potentially life-threatening conditions.

3. Elevated blood pressure

Sitting for long durations has been linked to elevated blood pressure levels. The lack of physical activity and decreased blood flow can contribute to hypertension, a significant risk factor for cardiovascular diseases. Engaging in regular exercise and breaking up periods of sitting with movement can help lower blood pressure and maintain heart health.

4. Increased risk of obesity

Prolonged sitting is often associated with a sedentary lifestyle, which can lead to weight gain and obesity. Excessive weight gain puts additional strain on the heart, increasing the risk of pulmonary embolism, heart disease, high cholesterol, and diabetes. Regular exercise, combined with reducing sitting time, can help manage weight and improve overall cardiovascular health.

5. Unfavourable lipid profile

Sitting has been linked to increased levels of LDL cholesterol (often referred to as 'bad' cholesterol) and decreased levels of HDL cholesterol (known as 'good' cholesterol). This imbalance can contribute to the development of atherosclerosis and increase the risk of heart disease.

How to prevent dangers of excessive sitting: Know the precautions and lifestyle changes suggested by Dr Singh:

Although it is completely impossible to evade the risk of heart disease, lifestyle modification has a major role to play in reducing the risk factors. Some ways in which one can prevent sitting for long hours include:

1. Move regularly

It is important to break up long periods of sitting by incorporating short bursts of movement throughout the day.

2. Stand and work

Consider using standing desks or adjustable workstations that allow you to alternate between sitting and standing positions. Standing engages your muscles and promotes better posture, enhancing blood circulation.

3. Schedule active breaks

Instead of sitting during breaks or lunchtime, engage in physical activities such as walking, climbing stairs, or doing simple exercises.

4. Prioritize exercise

Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking, cycling, or swimming, every week. Additionally, incorporate strength training exercises to improve overall cardiovascular fitness.

5. Regular health check-ups

Schedule routine check-ups with your healthcare professional to monitor your heart health and discuss any concerns. They can provide personalized guidance on managing heart disease risk factors and recommend appropriate interventions.

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