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Experts say prolonged periods of sitting can produce a variety of health issues. Kseniya Starkova/Getty Images
  • Decreasing sitting time by as little as 30 minutes daily can lower blood pressure, according to a new study.
  • Researchers say reducing sitting time was comparable to increasing physical activity and lowering blood pressure.
  • They said that older adults typically sit 60% to 80% of their awake time.

Older adults might be able to lower their blood pressure by reducing sitting time, even by as little as 30 minutes per day.

That’s according to a new study by Kaiser Permanente that was published today in the journal JAMA Network Open.

Kaiser Permanente officials said they created a program to see if sitting less could reduce blood pressure in older adults.

The research included 283 Kaiser Permanente members between 60 and 89 years of age who had a body mass index between 30 and 50.

The participants received:

  • Ten health coaching sessions over six months
  • A tabletop standing desk
  • An activity tracker

The coaching sessions focused on setting goals for reducing sitting time. Participants completed most of the coaching sessions remotely.

A second group of participants also received health coaching. However, their goals focused on general health unrelated to standing or increasing activity.

The researchers reported that the study participants who received coaching sessions focused on sitting time reduced their inactivity levels by about 30 minutes a day.

The participants also lowered their blood pressure by almost 3.5 mmHg.

The researchers noted that the drop in blood pressure is comparable to a reduction of 4 mmHg found in studies examining increased physical activity as a way to lower blood pressure as well as an average decrease of 3 mmHg in weight loss studies.

According to the study authors, decreasing sitting time can improve overall health. Older adults typically sit between 65% and 80% of the time they are awake and sitting is associated with health risks such as heart disease and diabetes.

“I definitely recommend reducing sitting time for blood flow purposes from a cardiovascular perspective,” said Dr. Christopher Tanayan, a sports and preventative cardiologist affiliated with Northwell Health in New York who was not involved in the study. “[It is] also great for musculoskeletal issues. It is interesting how [the researchers] explained how this reduces blood pressure physiologically (frequent interruptions to bent artery position, improving blood flow and vascular shear stress).”

“It is unclear how this translates to longer-term [blood pressure] reductions, unlike the effect one gets from aerobic exercise (hormonal, release of endorphins, vasodilation effect), which makes more sense,” Tanayan told Medical News Today.

Over the past decade, numerous studies have reported on the benefits of daily physical activity. They include:

  • One study completed in 2022 showed that three one-minute bursts of vigorous activity can lead to a longer life.
  • A meta-analysis showed a decrease in chronic diseases with increased daily activity.

Experts say the current study provides additional support for the conclusions of this past research.

“This study is not completely novel,” said Dr. Howard Weintraub, the clinical director of the Center for the Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease at NYU Langone Heart in New York who was not involved in the study. “Lowering blood pressure by 3.5 mmHg is not enormous, but it is a start and may help. The researchers did exclude people I would like to see included, such as people with diabetes or existing cardiovascular disease.”

“The data shows that a modest increase in activity leads to a modest decrease in blood pressure,” Weintraub told Medical News Today. “I think I would lean more toward suggesting a short walk. However, this group is very overweight and starting with a few minutes of activity while standing might be a good start. But, focusing on weight loss instead of or alongside activity would probably lead to much better results. Overall, the study is consistent with what we already know – getting up has health benefits, even small ones. The takeaway message is that more activity is beneficial to health.”

Not everyone agrees that a drop of 3.5 mmHg is insignificant.

Dr. Jennifer Wong, a cardiologist and medical director of Non-Invasive Cardiology at MemorialCare Heart and Vascular Institute at Orange Coast Medical Center in California, sees this reduction as a huge accomplishment.

“The study highlights that every little bit helps,” Wong, who was not involved in the study, told Medical News Today. “People aren’t motivated to continue if the goal is too high – such as walking for 150 minutes weekly. So, I would recommend starting small and letting people know that research such as this backs up the idea that they don’t need to climb a mountain. The relatively simple recommendation of standing up can improve their health is enormous.”

“Although this study focused on older, overweight individuals, I think the premise can be applied across the board,” Wong added.

Sedentary behavior contributes to obesity and cardiometabolic unhealthiness,” Tanayan said. “Blood clot formation in the lower extremities that may travel to the lungs due to prolonged sitting (e.g., long haul flights) is probably the most feared immediate complication of ‘sitting too much.”

“Sitting all day is inevitable for some lines of work, so a total of 12 hours of sitting time might be acceptable as long as there is a break to this regularly. Easiest to remember is every hour,” he added. “The disruption to sitting (change of position to standing) is what they’ve used here to explain the reduction in systolic blood pressure. I agree that blood flow is improved by this habit. Sitting to standing/walking every hour likely helps maintain our blood vessels ‘trained’ to do so and maintains good circulation, particularly in our lower extremities.”

Sitting too long is an area of ongoing study, according to Dr. Scott Kaiser, a geriatrician and the director of Geriatric Cognitive Health for the Pacific Neuroscience Institute in California who was not involved in the study. “But we do know that it can lead to premature mortality, heart disease, and diabetes. It can also have negative effects on mental health.”

“We don’t have a lot of research on what an acceptable amount of time to sit in,” Kaiser told Medical News Today. “Metabolism, glucose, muscle tone, bone, and the cardiovascular system are all affected by prolonged sitting.”

“Many people tend to overthink activity – they think they need a complex exercise plan,” Kaiser said. “But this study tells people to get up and move.”

“The researchers give us a very simple change that everyone can make,” he added. “I like the idea of ‘activity snacks’ – short periods of activity. Almost any activity is good as long as you get up and get moving.”

Tanayan suggests ways to remind yourself to reduce sedentary behavior:

  • Set alerts on wearable devices.
  • Be mindful to stand and walk every 30 minutes or 60 minutes at work.
  • Request an option to use a standing workstation.
  • If you have on-site coworkers, help each other at by reminding them to stand/walk regularly.