- Research found that prolonged sitting increases one’s risk of potentially fatal blood clots in the legs — even with regular exercise.
- Since the body relies on leg muscles to push the blood upwards, staying immobile for long hours can cause the blood to clot.
- Make sure to maintain regular activity and reduce sitting time by getting up and moving around hourly.
Exercise is Not Enough
With all the benefits that exercise offers, you would think that exercising regularly would have you covered.
But it turns out that that’s not the case — especially if you still lead a sedentary lifestyle.
According to Mary Cushman, MD, a professor of medicine at the Larner College of Medicine at the University of Vermont, your health is impacted more by your general activity and less by the exercise you do.
Dr. Cushman presented evidence at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2017 that people who live a sedentary lifestyle have an increased risk of potentially fatal blood clots in the legs — even if they meet exercise guidelines.
How do Blood Clots Develop?
After arteries have distributed oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, veins bring blood back to the heart.
The veins in the legs, in particular, have a difficult job since they have to bring the blood up against gravity, explained Dr. Cushman.
Since the body relies on leg muscles to push the blood upwards, staying immobile for long hours can cause the blood to clot, leading to venous thromboembolism (VTE).
A clot can be fatal if it moves or if a section of it breaks off — it can travel all the way to the brain and cause a stroke. It can also lodge in the lungs, leading to a potentially fatal pulmonary embolism.
The Impact of Prolonged Sitting
After reviewing data on 15,000 middle-aged people (45-64 years old) from the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study, Dr. Cushman’s team found that people who watch TV “very often” had 1.7 times the risk of suffering a life-threatening blood clot compared to people who seldom or never watched TV.
Frequent watchers who exercised regularly were still 1.8 times more likely to get a blood clot than exercisers who rarely watched television.
What You Can Do
“Do your 30 minutes of moderate exercise every day. And then if you want to sit and watch TV for three hours at night, you should be moving during part of that time at least,” Dr. Cushman advises.
If you work at a desk, set up an hourly alarm to remind you to get up and move around. If you like watching TV, you can walk on a treadmill while doing so.
Dr. Cushman offers two main pieces of advice to avoid VTE.
“Number one is to educate yourself about this disease,” she advises.
Awareness of the symptoms can help you get treated early on.
Some symptoms of DVT include pain or tenderness in your thigh or calf, leg swelling, redness, and skin that feels hot to the touch.
A pulmonary embolism, meanwhile, is characterized by unexpected shortness of breath, chest pain, lightheadedness, rapid breathing, and increased heart rate. This indicates a lack of blood supply to the lungs—which can be fatal.
Between 300,000 and 600,000 people in the U.S. are affected by VTE every year. It is the third leading vascular diagnosis after heart disease and strokes, yet according to Dr. Cushman, worldwide awareness is “low.”
Risk factors for VTE include surgery, traumatic injury, cancer, and simply sitting for extended periods. Check out the American Heart Association‘s website for more information on VTE.
VTE most commonly affects adults aged 60 years and above. However, you can reduce your risk by establishing good habits when young.
Dr. Cushman’s second piece of advice is to “Keep moving.”
Just like any other disease, it can be prevented by being regularly active, reducing sitting time, and eating a healthy diet.
Source: THE Healthy