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Long Periods of Sedentary Behavior May Increase Cardiovascular Risk in Older Women

Woman with gray hair reads on sofa

A new study has found that the longer older women sit or lay down during the course of a day—and the longer the individual periods of uninterrupted sitting—the greater their risk of cardiovascular diseases such as heart disease and stroke.

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A new study has found that the longer older women sit or lay down during the course of a day—and the longer the individual periods of uninterrupted sitting—the greater their risk of cardiovascular diseases such as heart disease and stroke. But reducing their sedentary time by just an hour a day appears to lower the risk of cardiovascular diseases by 12 percent—and for heart disease alone, by a dramatic 26 percent, the research found. The study was funded by NHLBI.  

“This study provides further strong evidence of a link between sedentary behavior, like sitting and laying down, which uses very little energy, and cardiovascular disease,” said Dr. David Goff, director of NHLBI’s Division of Cardiovascular Sciences. “Sedentary behaviors and inactivity are major risk factors for heart disease, and this research also shows that it is never too late, or too early, to move more and improve your heart health.”

In this 5-year prospective study, researchers looked at more than 5,000 women ages 63 to 97 and measured both the total time they sat or laid down each day and the duration of discrete sedentary periods. The results, published Feb. 19 in the journal Circulation, are significant.

“Higher amounts of sedentary time and longer sedentary bouts were directly associated with cardiovascular disease,” said Dr. John Bellettiere, research fellow of cardiovascular disease epidemiology at the University of California, San Diego, and lead author of the study. “Importantly, the association showed up 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.”

Of the estimated 85.6 million American adults having at least one type of cardiovascular disease, which includes heart disease and stroke, 43.7 million of them are 60 or older. In fact, 67.9 percent of women between 60 and 79 years old have cardiovascular disease; heart disease is the leading cause of death among women 65 and older.

The findings, Bellettiere said, could have implications for what health officials communicate to older women about staying heart healthy. Getting up and moving, even if for just a few minutes more throughout the day, he noted, might help reduce their already-high rates of heart disease. 

The NIH Record

The NIH Record, founded in 1949, is the biweekly newsletter for employees of the National Institutes of Health.

Published 25 times each year, it comes out on payday Fridays.

Associate Editor: Carla Garnett
Carla.Garnett@nih.gov

Staff Writers:

Eric Bock
Eric.Bock@nih.gov

Dana Talesnik
Dana.Talesnik@nih.gov

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