Nurses have an increasingly key role to play in helping educate patients to reduce the health risks of prolonged sedentary time, according to US researchers.
They noted that sitting for too many hours per day, or sitting for long periods without a break, was now known to increase a wide range of health risks.
The health risks of prolonged sedentary time – and nurses’ role in reducing those risks – are the focus of a literature review published in the latest issue of the American Journal of Nursing.
The reviewers highlighted that recent studies had shown a direct relationship between prolonged sitting and the risk of several chronic health conditions.
Increased risks had been found both for “high-volume” sitting, such as sitting for seven or more hours per day, and for “prolonged uninterrupted” sitting, such as for 30 minutes or longer without a break.
The health risks of prolonged sitting were independent of whether the person participated in recommended physical activity, noted the researchers.
Author Linda Eanes, from the nursing school at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, said: “Nurses have a pivotal role to play in increasing public awareness about the potential adverse effects of high-volume and prolonged uninterrupted sitting.”
She said studies had shown the association between high-volume and prolonged uninterrupted sitting and health risks including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and all-cause mortality.
“Nurses have a pivotal role to play in increasing public awareness about the potential adverse effects of high-volume and prolonged uninterrupted sitting”
In conjunction with obesity, sedentary time was also linked to an increased risk of certain cancers, including ovarian, endometrial, and colon cancer, she said in the article.
She said nurses and other health professionals now had a new priority to educate patients about the health risks of prolonged sedentary time and make suggestions to reduce and interrupt sitting times.
Proposed interventions include using a standing desk or taking frequent walking or standing breaks, as well as the use of computer or smartphone reminders to take brief physical activity breaks.
However, she noted that further studies were needed to determine “the most effective and practical interventions for reducing habitual sitting”.
In contrast to efforts to increase physical activity, she suggested merely providing people with information and education might be effective in promoting reduction of sedentary behaviour.
She called on nurses to pay more attention to evaluating total daily sitting time, and to understanding the individual, social, occupational, and environmental factors that contributed to it.
“Nurses can also actively encourage all patients, regardless of demographics, to balance sedentary behaviour and physical activity simply by taking more frequent standing or walking breaks,” she said.
Dr Eanes said she believed that nurses were well positioned to contribute to research on the health risks associated with prolonged sitting, and the most effective interventions for reducing those risks.
Studies have shown that immobility decreases stimulation of weight-bearing muscles, leading to decreased activity of the lipoprotein lipase enzyme that plays an essential role in lipid metabolism.
This process includes production of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol and uptake of glucose from the blood.
In contrast, breaking up sedentary times with frequent bouts of standing or slow walking may reduce these metabolic risks – although the optimal levels of standing or walking remain unclear.