Prolonged sitting damages the heart

People who sit for long periods of time are more likely to develop diabetes and cardiovascular problems.

A group of cardiologists have found a direct link between a sedentary lifestyle and heart disease.


Inactivity can lead to heart failure, a condition in which the heart becomes progressively weaker and fails to pump enough blood to the body.



When heart muscle cells are damaged or dying, they produce proteins called troponins. A heart attack releases thousands of troponins into the bloodstream. High levels of this protein indicate that something is wrong.


A study, published in the scientific journal National Center for Biotechnology Information, showed that troponin levels are higher in people who spend about 10 hours sitting.


The researchers took data from 1,700 patients in the Dallas Heart Study. The information included heart test results, blood samples and medical history.


When they checked the blood samples, they found that those who spent many hours not moving and did little physical activity had much higher levels of troponin than the more active ones.


Although the levels of this protein are still much lower than those found in the blood of someone having a heart attack, in many cases they are sufficient to be recognized as mild heart damage.


“Sedentary behavior is associated with obesity, insulin resistance and fat deposition in the heart, which leads to damage to heart cells. However, the other side of the coin is what these people are not doing while they are sitting: they are not moving,” he said. James de Lemos, director of this research.


“And while our work shows a small benefit associated with exercise in terms of improving troponin levels, this is probably due to how little the population moves,” he said.


The authors focused on two aspects: the average time the participants spent sitting each day and their levels of cardiac troponins, which are proteins that are produced in high quantities by damaged or dying heart muscle cells. Thus, in the case of acute myocardial infarction, the heart releases enormous quantities of these troponins into the bloodstream.


“In the more sedentary people, troponin levels were markedly lower than those that occur in acute myocardial infarction, but were high enough to constitute subclinical heart damage,” he said.


Ultimately, and in the case of watching life go by from a chair or sofa, our hearts suffer. Literally. It is true that the elevation of troponin levels observed in the more sedentary participants is not sufficient to be considered pathological.


But it is also true that, as cardiologists warn, if chronically elevated, these troponins are warning that something is wrong with the heart muscle. In other words, damage that, if left untreated, can lead to heart failure.


A situation to take into account given that a sedentary lifestyle is responsible for the death of more than 5 million people around the world every year. And not just because the lack of inactivity causes them to gain weight and become obese, thus increasing the risk of developing a potentially fatal disease, such as cardiovascular disease or cancer.