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Sitting too long can be bad for your health, studies have shown. But how to do the health hazards of sedentary behavior affect the nation’s growing population of Hispanic and Latino women?

Researchers at the newly created Women’s Cardiovascular Research Center at the University of California San Diego and San Diego State University have started a four-year, $3.7 million study to look at the link between sedentary habits and cardiovascular health among Hispanic and Latino women over 55.

Sedentary behavior is commonly defined as sitting for at least 30 minutes, said Matthew A. Allison, M.D., the study’s lead researcher and a professor at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine.

Research into the relationship between sitting time and heart health is relatively new. The earliest work started in Australia, said Allison, who specializes in preventive cardiology. American scientists started looking at the issue about five years ago, he said.

Findings so far suggest prolonged sitting may contribute to heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and other conditions that lead to cardiovascular disease — even among people who exercise.

Allison and his colleagues chose to focus on Hispanic and Latino women because few published studies have assessed their cardiovascular health. In addition, most U.S. research on sedentary behavior has been among blacks and whites, he said.

One of the scarce studies to look at Hispanics and Latinos found that among more than 12,000 adults, they spent about 12 hours a day sitting. That was associated with higher blood sugar levels and lower levels of “good” HDL cholesterol.

If Allison and his colleagues find a link between prolonged sitting and heart disease, stroke and their risk factors, they could develop ways to reduce sitting time among Hispanic and Latino women, he said, which could “have a huge effect on cardiovascular risk in the United States population itself.”

As of 2014, there were about 26 million U.S. Hispanic and Latino women, a number expected to rise to about 45 million by 2040, according to U.S. Census data. After cancer, heart disease and stroke were the second- and third-leading causes of death among Hispanic women in 2013, show data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The study will recruit 250 Hispanic and Latino women from clinics in San Diego County with the goal of reducing sitting time by 25 percent. Researchers will learn about the women’s home and work environments, and suggest ways to cut down on sitting, such as using timers to remind them to stand up or move around when they watch television, said researcher Jacqueline Kerr, Ph.D., an associate professor of health behavior at UCSD who uses a smartphone app to remind her to stand up every 30 minutes.

“It’s really about the context you’re in and how you can change that environment to encourage you to stand more,” Kerr said.

The women will wear an inclinometer — a device that detects changes in posture — to track their sitting time. Investigators will follow the women for three months to gauge their progress. A researcher with San Diego State University will analyze the women’s cholesterol, blood sugar and other substances from blood samples taken at the beginning and the end of the trial.

The investigators will also analyze sitting time data collected from 400 San Diego-area women between ages 25 and 81 who participate in the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos, a long-term survey of more than 16,000 U.S. Hispanic and Latino adults.

The research project, which is funded by the American Heart Association’s Go Red For Women Strategically Focused Network, also includes training other scientists in how to study cardiovascular health in women.