According to a recent study1, adults spend an average of more than 7 hours of the waking day sedentary. 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 for chronic disease.2
If exercise can’t cut it, what can? In a paper published by the European Heart Journal, researchers found that individuals who sit less—or take breaks to stand up and move around were at a reduced risk for cardiovascular disease.3 Could these promising results be applied to women and uterine fibroid growth?
Physical Activity & Fibroids
In Beijing, China, He et al.4 sought to examine whether lifestyle factors like physical activity influenced the risk of uterine fibroids in pre- and postmenopausal women. This case-control 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 lifetime moderate occupational activity, or what the authors described as hours per day spent sitting or standing in relation to their work, had a significant reduced risk of fibroids—even more so than women who spent time participating in leisurely exercise. 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 authors 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,”4 the authors pointed out.
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 weight6—both of which may play a role in the prevention of hormonal conditions.
Longitudinal studies7 have found that women who sit for longer periods of time throughout the day tend to have higher body mass indices (BMI). This poses a problem because statistics show obese women are two to three times more likely to develop fibroids.8 Excess fat tissue may lead to hormone imbalance, which can trigger fibroid growth. “Obesity is associated with the development of fibroids,” He and his team of researchers explain. “Most likely through increasing endogenous hormone levels, decreasing serum hormone-binding globulin, and altering estrogen metabolism under premenopausal conditions.”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, walking the dog, gardening, or shopping. It can also include making small changes at work like taking the stairs instead of the elevator or investing in a standing desk.6 9 10
Other ways to sit less include9 10:
- Standing up and moving around during TV commercial breaks
- Walking around when talking on the phone
- Playing with your children for 15-30 minutes per day
- Standing and taking a break from your computer every 30 minutes (set a cell phone reminder if necessary!)
- Getting on/off public transportation one stop early
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 has a Master of Science in Nutrition and Whole Foods Dietetics (MSN/DPD) and is a registered dietitian nutritionist, a certified dietitian, and a holistic life coach. In addition to writing, she enjoys singing, traveling abroad and volunteering with her local animal shelter.
- Wijndaele, K., Orrow, G., Ekelund, U., Sharp, S. J., Brage, S., Griffin, S. J., & Simmons, R. K. (2014). Increasing objectively measured sedentary time increases clustered cardiometabolic risk: a 6 year analysis of the ProActive study. Diabetologia, 57(2): 305-312. doi:10.1007/s00125-013-3102-y
- Biswas, A., Oh, P. I., Faulkner, G. E., Bajaj, R. R. Silver, M. A., Mitchell, M. S., & Alter, D. A. (2015). Sedentary time and its association with risk for disease incidence, mortality, and hospitalization in adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Annals of Internal Medicine, 162(2): 123-132. doi:10.7326/M14-1651
- Healy, G. N., Matthews, C. E., Dunstan, D. W., Winkler, E. A., & Owen, N. (2011). Sedentary time and cardio-metabolic biomarkers in US adults: NHANES 2003-06. European Heart Journal, 32(5): 590-597. doi:10.1093/eurheartj/ehq451
- He, Y., Zeng, Q., Dong, S., Qin, L., Li, G., & Wang, P. (2013). Associations between uterine fibroids and lifestyles including diet, physical activity, and stress: a case-control study in China. Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 22(1): 109-117. doi:10.6133/apjcn.2013.22.1.07
- Khan, A. T., Shehmar, M., & Gupta, J. K. (2014). Uterine fibroids: current perspectives. International Journal of Women’s Health, 6: 95-114. doi:10.2147/IJWH.S51083
- Kushi, L. H., Doyle, C., McCullough, M., Rock, C. L., Denmark-Wahnefried, W., Bandera, E. V., Gapstur, S., Patel, A. V., Andrew, K., Gansler, T., & The American Cancer Society 2010 Nutrition and Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee. (2012). American cancer society guidelines on nutrition and physical activity for cancer prevention. CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, 62(1):30-67. doi:10.3322/caac.20140
- Uijtdewilligen, L., Twisk, J. W. R., Singh, A. S., Chinapaw, M. J. M., van Mechelen, W., & Brown, W. J. (2014). Biological, socio-demographic, work and lifestyle determinants of sitting in young adult women: a prospective cohort study. The International Journal of Behavior Nutrition and Physical Activity, 11: 7.doi:10.1186/1479-5868-11-7
- US Dept of Health and Human Services, Office on Women’s Health. (2015). Uterine Fibroids Fact Sheet. Retrieved April 14, 2015, from http://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/uterine-fibroids.html?from=AtoZ
- Heart Foundation. (2011). Sitting less for adults. Retrieved June 9, 2015, from http://www.heartfoundation.org.au/SiteCollectionDocuments/HW-PA-SittingLess-Adults.pdf
- Kravitz, L. (2011). American College of Sports Medicine. Reducing Sedentary Behaviors: Sitting Less and Moving More. Retrieved June 9, 2015, from https://www.acsm.org/docs/brochures/reducing-sedentary-behaviors-sitting-less-and-moving-more.pdf