Drinking coffee may help negate harmful effects of being sedentary

By Staff 9 Min Read

  • The American Heart Association recommends adults get at least 150 minutes of physical activity each week for good health.
  • Past research shows that living a sedentary lifestyle can have harmful effects on overall health and may increase a person’s mortality risk.
  • Researchers from Soochow University have found people who do not drink coffee have a higher all-cause mortality rate than coffee drinkers.

Part of a healthy lifestyle includes a good amount of movement every day. The American Heart Association recommends adults get at least 150 minutes of physical activity that gets their heart pumping each week to maintain good health.

Past research shows that living a sedentary lifestyle can have harmful effects on overall health and may increase a person’s risk for several health conditions including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, osteoporosis, cancer, and heart disease.

Constantly being inactive has also been linked to all-cause and cardiovascular disease-related deaths.

Now, new research recently published in the journal BMC Public Health suggests drinking coffee may help negate some of the harmful effects of a sedentary lifestyle.

Scientists at Soochow University in Suzhou, China, report that sitting for more than eight hours a day was linked to an increased risk for both all-cause and heart disease-related mortality compared to sitting less than four hours daily. However, those who drank the most coffee appeared to have reduced mortality risk compared to those who did not drink coffee.

For this study, researchers analyzed data from almost 10,700 participants of the 2007–2018 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey of U.S. adults about their daily sitting time and coffee consumption.

“In recent years, increased TV viewing and computer use, as well as less physically demanding jobs, have led people to become more sedentary in their daily lives,” Bingyan Li, PhD, professor in the Department of Nutrition and Food Hygiene in the School of Public Health at the Medical College of Soochow University in Suzhou, China, and corresponding author of this study told Medical News Today. “Even if adults meet physical activity guidelines, sitting for long periods of time can harm metabolic health.

Sedentary behavior is emerging as a potential determinant of harmful health outcomes, and sedentary (behavior) is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and cardiovascular and all-cause mortality. And these adverse health outcomes impose a huge financial burden on the world.”

“However, coffee is one of the most widely consumed beverages in the world, and among the U.S. population, and growing evidence also suggests that regular coffee consumption can reduce morbidity and mortality from chronic diseases due to the powerful antioxidant properties of coffee components,” Li continued. “Therefore, even if coffee has a small health-boosting effect, it may have a significant impact on public health.”

After analyzing the data, Li and her research team concluded that sitting more than eight hours a day was linked to a higher risk of both all-cause and cardiovascular disease-related deaths, compared to participants who sat for less than four hours a day.

When factoring in coffee consumption, scientists found that participants who drank the most coffee had reduced risk for both all-cause and cardiovascular disease-related mortality compared to those who did not drink coffee.

Researchers also reported that non-coffee-drinking participants who sat for six hours or more a day were about 1.6 times more likely to die from all causes than coffee drinkers who sat for less than six hours a day.

“One research has indicated that prolonged and uninterrupted sitting appears to impair glucose metabolism and increase inflammation,” Li said.

“Sedentary behavior is a crucial and independent predictor of inflammation, as it induces proinflammatory markers while reducing anti-inflammatory markers. Additionally, previous studies had shown that sedentary behavior alters the metabolism of skeletal muscle, and for each hour more spent sitting or lying in a prone position during waking hours, metabolic risks increased by 39%,” she explained.

“[T]he benefits of coffee consumption in improving overall survival in adults compared to sedentary behavior are manifold. Coffee consumption reduces the risk of metabolic syndrome, which aggravates inflammation. An inverse relationship between coffee consumption with all-cause and cardiovascular disease mortality has been found in adults in many studies.”
— Bingyan Li, PhD

After reviewing this study, Yu-Ming Ni, MD, a board certified cardiologist and lipidologist at MemorialCare Heart and Vascular Institute at Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, CA, urged readers to take this study’s findings with a grain of salt.

“This is an association study so, we’re trying to understand the relationship between coffee and cardiovascular disease,” Ni explained to MNT. “But when you’re looking at associations, it’s hard to know whether the coffee is the reason for why the reduction in heart disease is occurring or if there’s some other factor that that person that’s drinking coffee is doing that reduces their cardiovascular mortality. So that’s probably the most important takeaway from this.”

“I think it’s really important that we recognize that lifestyle choices are the foundation of good health. The American Heart Association published the Essential 8, which are the eight lifestyle choices and medical management that is most associated with good health. And a very small portion of Americans are following all eight principles. So I think there’s always an opportunity to study behavior change and healthy behaviors as a way to be healthy, as a way to reduce your risk of heart disease. And coffee consumption is one of the behaviors that we’ve been studying for a long time.”
— Yu-Ming Ni, MD

MNT also spoke with Monique Richard, MS, RDN, LDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist and owner of Nutrition-In-Sight, about this study.

Richard said it’s important to remember that many factors influence the possibility of reaping the potential benefits of coffee, tea, or any beverage.

“The source of the bean, the quality, how it is processed, what is added to it — preservatives, cream, sugar — how much is consumed, and how often, as well as the individual’s caffeine sensitivity, current health — pharmaceutical medication, blood pressure, heart conditions — and metabolic response to it,” she detailed. “Three to five 8-ounce cups a day, about 400 mg of caffeine, is the current [recommended daily limit] but tolerance may be highly variable per individual.”

When looking at other aspects attributed to coffee intake that individuals may find offset the consequences of being sedentary, Richard said that caffeine from coffee may provide more alertness by acting on the central nervous system and it may have a mood-boosting-feel-good benefit for an individual.

“It may provide mental clarity and acuteness,” she continued. “However, there are also some downsides to consider as well. Certain compounds in coffee, especially if unfiltered, may raise lipid levels, may cause anxiety, jitteriness, GERD, GI issues, heart palpitations, or cardio-metabolic markers such as homocysteine levels to rise as well.”

For readers considering drinking coffee for its potential health benefits, Richard advised:

  • Work with a registered dietitian nutritionist to figure out how coffee may or may not be beneficial to your health and needs.
  • Don’t necessarily start adding it if you don’t already enjoy it
  • Figure out how much you are consuming, keeping in mind that a 32-ounce cold brew with extra vanilla and caramel syrup is not going to offer the benefits of an unsweetened coffee with low-fat milk or nothing added
  • Ask yourself, “If I am sedentary for six to eight hours, how can I move more every hour, every day?
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