We've been told for years that sitting is horrible for our health, but, apparently, heart patients haven't gotten the message.

Over 275 patients with coronary artery disease wore an activity monitor during their waking hours for nine days. All the patients had been through a program of cardiac rehabilitation in which they learned the best ways to improve their health.

Women in the study sat about an hour less a day than men did. And no, this did not come from going shopping.

The monitors allowed the researchers to measure how long people spent being sedentary and how long they were standing or moving around or exercising.

Those who sat the most were heaviest and the least fit.

Whether they were driving a car, watching TV or working at a computer, the patients sat an average of eight hours a day, which surprised the researchers, since all had taken classes on the importance of exercising more. Those who sat more had a higher BMI and a lower aerobic capacity, sometimes called cardiorespiratory fitness.

This was true no matter a person's age or gender or amount of exercise: More sitting meant poorer health.

Women in the study sat about an hour less a day than men did. And no, this did not come from going shopping. The researchers found women were doing more light intensity activities, like housework, walking to the end of the drive to pick up the mail, or running errands.

There is some previous research that suggests that at around the age of 60, men become more sedentary than women and may watch more TV. In any case, the study authors think the main point is that people need to sit less and move around more and they offer some simple tips on how to do so:

  • Get up and move every 30 minutes.
  • Stand up during TV commercials or, even better, do light exercises while watching TV.
  • Set a timer and take regular breaks from your desk.
  • Take lunch breaks outside instead of in front of the computer.
  • Go to bed instead of sitting in front of the TV and get the benefits of sleep.
  • Monitor your activity patterns to find out when you are most sedentary.
  • Sitting too much will cost in the long run. It's better to break the habit early.

    “Limiting the amount of time we spend sitting may be as important as the amount we exercise,” according to lead author Stephanie Prince. But she emphasizes that sitting less is not a replacement for exercise. They are two separate health issues: “It's important to limit prolonged bouts of sitting and in addition to be physically active.”

    The study appears in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.