Adults spend an average of more than 7 hours of the waking day sedentary.1 The health community is starting to target this lack of movement as a main contributor to some of the chronic diseases we see today. If you think a trip to the gym is enough to make up for a day spent sitting, think again. Results from a range of studies show that, despite exercising, individuals who sit for prolonged periods of time are still at a higher risk of chronic disease.2
If exercise can’t cut it, what can? In a paper published by the European Heart Journal, researchers found that simply taking breaks to stand up and move around was associated with cardio-metabolic benefits.3 Could these promising results be applied to women and uterine fibroid growth?
Physical Activity & Fibroids
In Beijing, China, researchers examined whether lifestyle factors like physical activity influenced the risk of uterine fibroids in premenopausal and postmenopausal women.4 The study screened 73 women with fibroids and 210 without. Using a questionnaire, women also self-reported details regarding behaviors surrounding health habits.
Premenopausal women who reported moderate “occupational activity,” or what the researchers described as hours per day spent sitting or standing in relation to their work, had a significantly reduced risk of fibroids.4 These results were not significant in postmenopausal women.
Why Sit Less?
Why did moderate occupational physical activity have protective effects? The reasons behind these findings aren’t fully understood. However, the researchers did notice consistencies between their results and those associated with studies examining occupational physical activity and other hormone-related diseases. “Results from several studies suggest that higher levels of occupational physical activity may be associated with a reduction in risk of breast cancer,” the researchers pointed out.4
It’s believed that hormone-related diseases like uterine fibroids are driven in part by sex hormones like estrogen and progesterone.5 Staying physically active may regulate sex hormones and help to maintain a healthy body weight.6 Studies have found that women with higher body mass indices (BMIs) are most at risk of higher sitting time.7 This poses a problem because statistics show that for very heavy women, the risk of fibroids is two to three times greater than average.8
“Obesity is associated with the development of fibroids most likely through increasing endogenous hormone levels, decreasing serum hormone-binding globulin, and altering estrogen metabolism under premenopausal conditions . . .,” the team of researchers explained.4
As the research shows, sitting less doesn’t have to include running a marathon—it just involves moving more. It can include everyday activities like housework, gardening, or shopping.6 It can also mean making intentional changes, such as:6,9
- Take regular breaks from your computer every 30 minutes (set a reminder if necessary).
- Finish chores while watching your favorite television program.
- Stand to read the newspaper.
- Move around the house while checking your cell phone for texts and/or messages.
- Commute by bicycle to work instead of driving.
Making small changes to your routine that incorporate more movement is the first step toward forming healthy habits that last a lifetime.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Alicia Armeli is a freelance writer and editor, registered dietitian nutritionist, and certified holistic life coach. She has master’s degrees in English education and nutrition. Through her writing, she empowers readers to live optimally by building awareness surrounding issues that impact health and well-being. She is a paid consultant of Merit Medical.
1. Matthews, C. E., Chen, K. Y., Freedson, P. S., et al. (2008). Amount of time spent in sedentary behaviors in the United States, 2003–2004. Am J Epidemiol, 167:875–881.
2. Biswas, A., Oh, P. I., Faulkner, G. E., et al. (2015). Sedentary time and its association with risk for disease incidence, mortality, and hospitalization in adults: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Ann Intern Med, Jan 20;162(2):123–132.
3. Healy, G. N., Matthews, C. E., Dustan, D. W., et al. (2011). Sedentary time and cardio-metabolic biomarkers in US adults: NHANES 2003-06. Eur Heart J, Mar;32(5):590–597.
4. He, Y., Zeng, Q., Dong, S., et al. (2013). Associations between uterine fibroids and lifestyles including diet, physical activity and stress: A case-controlled study in China. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr, 22(1):109–117.
5. Khan, A. T., Shehmar, M., & Gupta, J. K. (2014). Uterine fibroids: Current perspectives. Int J Womens Health, Jan 29;6:95–114.
6. Kushi, L. H., Doyle, C., McCullough, M., et al. (2012). American Cancer Society Guidelines on nutrition and physical activity for cancer prevention: Reducing the risk of cancer with healthy food choices and physical activity. CA Cancer J Clin, Jan–Feb;62(1):30–67.
7. Uijtdewilligen, L. Twisk, J. W., Singh, A. S., et al. (2014). Biological, socio-demographic, work and lifestyle determinants of sitting in young adult women: A prospective cohort study. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act, Jan 24;11:7.
8. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women’s Health. (2019, Apr 1). Uterine fibroids fact sheet. Retrieved from https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/uterine-fibroids?FROM=ATOZ
9. Heart Foundation. (n.d.). Sit less. Retrieved from https://www.heartfoundation.org.au/active-living/sit-less