Introduction: Increased sedentary behavior predicts greater cardiovascular morbidity and mortality and does so independently of physical activity (PA). This association is only partially explained by body mass index (BMI) and overall body fat, suggesting mechanisms besides general increased adiposity. The purpose of this study was to explore associations of self-reported leisure PA and sitting time with regional fat depositions and abdominal muscle among community-dwelling older adults.
Methods: Participants were 539 diverse adults (mean age = 65 yr) who completed a study visit in 2001–2002. Areas of pericardial, intrathoracic, subcutaneous, visceral, and intermuscular fat, as well as abdominal muscle, were measured using computed tomography. Leisure PA and sitting hours were entered simultaneously into multivariate regression models to determine associations with muscle and fat areas.
Results: After adjusting for demographics, smoking, diabetes, hypertension, triglycerides, and cholesterol, greater PA was associated with less intrathoracic, visceral, subcutaneous, and intermuscular fat (for all P < 0.05), while greater sedentary time was associated with greater pericardial and intrathoracic fat (for both P < 0.05). After further adjusting for BMI, each hour of weekly PA was associated with 1.85 cm2 less visceral fat (P < 0.01) but was not associated with other fat depositions. Conversely, each hour of daily sitting was associated with 2.39 cm2 more pericardial fat (P < 0.05) but was not associated with any other fat depositions. There were no associations with abdominal muscle area. Adjusting for common inflammatory markers had little effect. Associations between fat and PA were stronger for men.
Conclusions: Sitting and PA have distinct associations with regional fat deposition in older adults. The association between sitting and pericardial fat could partially explain the link between sitting and coronary heart disease.