Steven Taylor—Getty Images
By Alice Park
September 15, 2015

As the data pointing to the dangers of sitting too much gets stronger, scientists in Korea say there’s one more reason to get off the couch.

In a study published in the Journal of Hepatology, researchers at led by Seungho Ryu at Kangbuk Samsung Hospital and Sungkyunkwan University report that too many hours spent sitting can increase the risk of developing non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). NAFLD is a condition in which excess fat builds up in the liver; in some cases the accumulation can cause scarring and result in liver failure. While alcohol can trigger similar changes, when alcohol isn’t involved the condition is most commonly linked to obesity and insulin resistance.

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Among a group of 139,056 men and women who completed physical exams at various hospitals and completed physical activity and food questionnaires, those who spent the more than five hours a day sitting showed up to a 9% increased risk of developing NAFLD compared to people who sat less than five hours a day.

The effect remained strong even among those who exercised regularly. At every level of physical activity the participants reported, those who spent more time sitting showed higher rates of NAFLD than those who sat less. Plus, the relationship between increased sitting time and higher risk of the disease occurred even among those with normal range body mass index.

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Exercise, however, did seem to have an independent effect on risk of the disease as well. Those who were less physically active consistently showed higher risk of NAFLD than those who were more active.

The results suggest that both sitting too much and too little exercise can contribute to an unhealthy liver, say the researchers. “Our findings suggest that both increasing participation in physical activity and reducing sitting time may be independently important in reducing the risk of NAFLD,” said Dr. Yoosoo Chang, a co-author of the study, in a statement.

The data confirm other studies that highlight the independent effect that sedentary behavior can have on health, no matter how much you exercise. Even if a person exercises on a daily basis for an hour or so, if the rest of the day is spent sitting, then he may be higher risk of metabolic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and obesity. And, according to the latest study, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease as well.

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