How much time do you spend in front of the TV? Reclining on the couch watching funny pet videos on your tablet? Sitting at your computer crunching numbers at work? You get the picture. Even though being sedentary has become a commonplace of modern day living, it can take a huge toll on your arteries, says the Journal of Surgical Research1—which could prove even riskier if you’re a woman with fibroids.
In the study, five healthy young individuals (age 22 +/- 2 years) committed to five days of bed rest to mimic physical inactivity. By doing so, Nosova and colleagues hoped to see how even short periods of sedentary behavior could impact heart and blood vessel health.
Before, during, and two days following bed rest, different tests were performed to measure if physical inactivity compromised blood vessel function. Since high blood pressure and the presence of inflammatory biomarkers contribute to heart disease, these were also measured. Each person adhered to the same diet throughout the study.
The authors found that short-term physical inactivity, represented by bed rest, resulted in a decline in vascular function. Vessel elasticity or flexibility was replaced by an increase in arterial stiffness. Diastolic blood pressure increased (the pressure your arteries experience between beats when the heart is at rest) and an influx of an enzyme, 15-HETE, was also observed. How 15-HETE impacts blood vessel function isn’t entirely clear, but it could be linked to narrowing of the arteries, the authors suggested.
“Dysfunctional endothelium (cells that line blood vessels) has been recognized as an initial step in the development of atherosclerosis,” the authors wrote. “Our findings suggest that inactivity leads to quantifiable impairment in vascular function and arterial wall stiffening, and we speculate that these are a result of endothelial dysfunction.”
Atherosclerosis is the buildup of plaque in the arteries that could lead to a heart attack or stroke.3 As we age, the risk for atherosclerosis and heart disease increases. 4,5 Nosova and colleagues pointed out that if physical inactivity impacted young healthy individuals in such a way, older adults who are more likely to be sedentary could be at an even greater risk.
A paper2 published earlier this year in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology confirmed that older adults are also at risk. Instead of simulating physical inactivity, the authors observed 2,031 individuals enrolled in the Dallas Heart Study—62 percent of whom were women 50 +/- 10 years of age. Results showed that each hour of sedentary time was linked to a 14 percent increased risk of coronary artery calcification—an indication of atherosclerosis. All individuals studied were free of known cardiovascular disease.
And the stakes may only get higher if you’re a woman with fibroids. Sedentary behavior in itself is associated with uterine fibroids in premenopausal women6 and recent studies show that having fibroids may increase a woman’s risk for atherosclerosis.7
Physical inactivity has been referred to as “the leading cause of excessive and preventable cardiovascular risk.”1 So the next time you settle in to watch that movie marathon, remember what it could be doing to your health.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Alicia Armeli is a Health Freelance Writer, 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 wellbeing. In addition to writing, she enjoys singing, traveling abroad and volunteering with her local animal shelter.
- Nosova, E. V., Yen, P., Chong, K. C., Alley, H. F., Stock, E. O., Quinn, A., Hellman, M. S., Conte, M. S., Owens, C. D., Spite, M., & Grenon, S. M. (2014). Short-term physical inactivity impairs vascular function. Journal of Surgical Research, 190(2): 672-682. doi:10.1016/j.jss.2014.02.001
- Kulinski, J., Kozlitina, J., Berry, J., de Lemos, J., & Khera, A. (2015). Sedentary behavior is associated with coronary artery calcification in the Dallas Heart Study. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 65(10_S): doi. 10.1016/S0735-1097(15)61446-2
- American Heart Association. (2014). What is Cardiovascular Disease? Retrieved August 23, 2015, from http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Caregiver/Resources/WhatisCardiovascularDisease/What-is-Cardiovascular-Disease_UCM_301852_Article.jsp
- National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (2014). Who Is at Risk for Atherosclerosis? Retrieved August 23, 2015, from http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/atherosclerosis/atrisk
- National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (2014). What Are the Risk Factors for Heart Disease? Retrieved August 23, 2015, from http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/hearttruth/lower-risk/risk-factors.htm
- 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
- Aksoy, Y., Sivri, N., Karaoz, B., Sayin, C., & Yetkin, E. (2014). Carotid intima-media thickness: a new marker of patients with uterine leiomyoma. European Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Reproductive Biology, 175: 54-57. doi:10.1016/j.ejogrb.2014.01.005