|Too Much Sitting Linked to Fat Buildup Around the Heart|
What's more, the fat stayed in place even when people undertook regular exercise, according to a study reported this week in Los Angeles at the annual meeting of the American Heart Association.
CT scans of more than 500 older Americans found that excess time spent sitting "was significantly related to pericardial fat around your heart," said study lead author Britta Larsen, a postdoctoral researcher in the department of cardiovascular epidemiology at the University of California, San Diego.
There have been numerous large studies recently suggesting that when it comes to its deleterious health effects, sitting is not just the absence of physical activity -- it has effects on the body that go beyond lack of exercise.
According to Larsen, that means that "even if you run every day but then you sit for eight hours a day, the sitting is still doing something bad for your health." She also noted that studies have found sitting to be detrimental to health even after scientists factored out excess weight gain.
"So, we wanted to see if sitting was related to the distribution of fat, because different types of fat are worse than others," Larsen said.
The study looked at data on 504 Californian adults, average age 65. In particular, Larsen's team examined CT scan data that showed how much of certain types of body fat were deposited in each participant's body.
"We looked at subcutaneous fat, which is stuff on the outside [for example, a "pot belly"]; then visceral fat, which is around your organs; intramuscular fat, which is actually in your muscles; intrathoracic [chest cavity] fat; and pericardial fat, which is around your heart," Larsen said.
The participants were also asked about the amount of time per week they spent sitting and how much time they had spent being physically active.
The study found that the more time spent sitting, the bigger the area of fat deposited around a person's heart, Larsen said. She explained that pericardial fat "is strongly related to cardiovascular disease. It gets in the way of heart function, it clogs up your arteries -- you don't want it there."
Prolonged sitting was not significantly related to any of the other types of fat, the study found.
There was also bad news for people who sit a lot but assume that they can exercise away all that pericardial fat. According to the study, regular exercise was not related to a lessening of pericardial fat, although it did help reduce visceral fat around the organs, which is strongly tied to diabetes and metabolic disease.
All of this means that for people who want to prevent the buildup of unhealthy fat deposits, exercise may not be enough.