Sedentary Lifestyle Increases Risk Of Deadly Pulmonary Embolism In Women

by Dr Sam Girgis on July 10, 2011

A sedentary lifestyle caused by physical inactivity can lead to numerous health problems.  Recently, there have been many reports giving evidence that a sedentary lifestyle can lead to weight gain, heart disease, diabetes, and even some forms of cancer.  The obesity epidemic that is occurring in children and adults in the United States and throughout the world is undoubtedly exacerbated by physical inactivity.  Watching television, use of computers, and use of advanced video game consoles have contributed to our increasingly sedentary lifestyle.  New research suggests that physical inactivity and a sedentary lifestyle can also contribute to deadly pulmonary embolism in women.  Pulmonary embolism results when a blood clot forms in the deep veins of the legs or other deep veins of the body and “embolizes” or travel to the lungs.  This can be a devastating medical problem if not treated appropriately and can even lead to the death of the effected individual.  Researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital, lead by Dr. Christopher Kabrhel, have recently provided evidence to implicate a sedentary lifestyle to the development of deadly pulmonary embolism in women.  Their research was recently published in the British Medical Journal.  The researchers used the Nurse’s Health Study, which included 69,950 female nurses, to determine the association between physical inactivity and the incidence of idiopathic pulmonary embolism.  The study was designed as a prospective cohort study and used questionnaires completed by the women between the years of 1990 and 2008.  The occurrence of idiopathic pulmonary embolism was identified as reports in the questionnaires and confirmed by analysis of medical records.  “Idiopathic” pulmonary embolism was defined as occurring without a precipitating factor such as long travel, recent surgery, trauma, active malignancy, or blood clotting disorder.  The researchers controlled for confounding factors such as age, body mass index, energy intake, smoking, race, spouse’s educational attainment, parity, menopause, non-aspirin non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, warfarin, multivitamin supplements, hypertension, coronary heart disease, rheumatological disease, and dietary patterns.  The women were followed for an 18 year period, and during that time there were 268 cases of idiopathic pulmonary embolism.  The researchers found a strong association between amount of time sitting and the risk of idiopathic pulmonary embolism, with the risk increasing by twofold in women who spent the most amount of time being physically inactive.  The authors wrote, “It is biologically plausible that physical inactivity could increase the risk of pulmonary embolism. Muscular activity in the lower extremities is required to promote venous blood return.  Thus, lack of such activity could result in venous stasis and thrombosis…  Regardless of the pathophysiological mechanism, the public health implications of our findings are potentially profound. Americans lead an increasingly inactive lifestyle, and this could partly explain the high prevalence of pulmonary embolism.   Public health campaigns that discourage physical inactivity among the general population could reduce the incidence of pulmonary embolism”.  These results should encourage everyone to put the TV remote down, let go of the computer mouse, release the video game controller, and put on your sneakers or get on your bike and get moving!!!


Christopher Kabrhel et al. “Physical inactivity and idiopathic pulmonary embolism in women: prospective studyBMJ 2011; DOI: 10.1136/bmj.d3867.

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