Published on 16 January 2018

Study finds that being inactive can cause fat to develop around internal organs.

A new study has found evidence that longer periods of inactivity could be connected to the amount of fat that can build up around internal organs.

Researchers took 124 participants at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes and measured the length of time they spent sedentary over a period of 7 days using accelerometers (physical activity monitors) fitted to their waist

Sedentary time, or any sitting/reclining activity with low energy expenditure, can lead to people becoming overweight and put them at risk of developing type 2 diabetes as the body develops insulin resistance.

The results of the study were recently published in the journal, Obesity, and were carried out by a team of researchers from the NIHR (National Institute for Health Research) Leicester Biomedical Research Centre, UK – a partnership between Leicester’s Hospitals, the University of Leicester and Loughborough University

The results of the study found that the longer a person remained sedentary during the day, the higher the build up of liver fat, inner (visceral) fat and total abdominal fat.

The amount of fat building up around the organs of sedentary people taking part in the study was more in those who did not meet Public Health England’s recommendation of 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity per week. 

Researchers concluded: “These findings suggest that sedentary time is associated with higher levels of inter- and intraorgan fat, but associations with liver, visceral, and total abdominal fat were stronger in those who do not reach the current exercise recommendations for health.”

Young couple exercising outside.

Getting more exercise can help people lose weight after long periods of inactivity

Dr Joe Henson, Research Associate at the University of Leicester, who led the study, said: “We know that spending long periods of time sedentary is unhealthy and a risk factor for chronic illnesses, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Likewise, the amount of fat deposited around our internal organs may also predispose us to these diseases.

“Using MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) techniques and physical activity monitors we have shown that the more time spent sedentary, the stronger the association with higher levels of internal and abdominal fat. This was particularly so if the long periods of sedentary behaviour were uninterrupted.

“Our findings also show that reaching the UK government’s target of 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity may offer some protection against the harmful effects of prolonged sedentary time.”

Professor Melanie Davies, Director of the NIHR Leicester Biomedical Research Centre, UK, Professor of Diabetes Medicine at the University of Leicester and a co-author of the study, said: “Lack of physical activity and being overweight are two risk factors associated with type 2 diabetes. However, the effects of prolonged sedentary time and whether physical activity can play a mediating role by reducing fat deposits on internal organs remain unclear.

“This research starts to shed a light on any connections between the two by using MRI to measure the distribution of fat in an individual’s body and analysing that in relation to their activity levels. The next step would be to examine the impact of regularly breaking up prolonged sedentary time upon internal fat levels.” 

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