Study Says How Much Exercise Is Needed To Offset A Sedentary Life


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Many of us have jobs or lifestyles that require a lot of sitting. We are at our desks and in front of our screens for hours every day, and we know this can’t be good for our health. Our bodies weren’t made to sit in an office 40+ hours per week—or on a couch, in a car, etc.

Doctors know that too much sitting can predispose you to major health issues if you’re not careful, and not just from a potentially increased waistline. Since many of us have our hands tied when it comes to how much we sit in a day, researchers have been looking for solutions to offset society’s increasingly sedentary lifestyle.

Luckily, a recent study claims we can reverse these risks through exercise. And they found just how much we need to move every day to do so.

The Health Risks Of Too Much Sitting

Obviously, when you sit for hours on end every day, you are using less energy than you would if you were standing or moving. This makes for fewer calories burned and possibly more pounds on the scale. But those are just the beginning of the health concerns that could arise from sitting too much.

According to the experts at the Mayo Clinic, research has indicated that sitting for long periods of time is linked to “a cluster of conditions” that make up what’s known as metabolic syndrome. This cluster includes excess body fat around the waist, increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, and unhealthy cholesterol levels.

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Prolonged periods of sitting also increase the risk of death from cardiovascular disease—the number one killer of women—and cancer.

While analyzing 13 studies of sitting time and activity levels, researchers at the Mayo Clinic found that people who sit for more than eight hours per day without any physical activity had a risk of death similar to that of smokers and individuals with obesity.

This take was recently co-signed by researchers at the Norwegian School of Sports Science, who released a study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine that found higher sedentary time equaled a higher mortality rate in “less active individuals.”

A Look At The Study

The purpose of the NSSS study was to “examine the joint associations of accelerometer-measured physical activity and sedentary time with all-cause mortality.” If you’re like us and don’t know what an accelerometer is, it’s a tool that measures the change in a person or object’s velocity over time. They’re used in fitness trackers to calculate how much you’re moving.

This was a massive study with “harmonized meta-analysis” that included nine cohort studies from four countries, which followed 44,370 adult men and women between 4 and 14.5 years. During that time, 3,451 participants died, producing a 7.8% mortality rate.

Researchers analyzed sedentary time as well as different combinations of exercise routines with moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity (MVPA). They found that the average sedentary time ranged from 8.5 and 10.5 hours per day, while the average MVPA ranged from 8 to 35 minutes per day.

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The results showed an increased risk of death in people with higher sedentary times and lower levels of MVPA. Participants in the lowest third of MVPA had the greatest risk of death in all combinations of sedentary and exercise time.

How Much Exercise You Need To Offset A Sedentary Life

The NSSS study states that “about 30-40 [minutes] of MVPA per day attenuate the association between sedentary time and risk of death, which is lower than previous estimates from self-reported data.”

In layman’s terms, that means getting 30 to 40 minutes of daily moderate-to-vigorous physical activity will counteract the health risks of sitting all day. Previous studies have recommended as much as 60 to 75 minutes, so this study is great news for those of us who just don’t have that much time in a day to spare.

According to the Harvard School of Public Health, “moderate-intensity activities are those that get you moving fast enough or strenuously enough to burn off three to six times as much energy per minute as you do when you are sitting quietly, or exercises that clock in at 3 to 6 METs. Vigorous-intensity activities burn more than 6 METs.”

Some examples of moderate-intensity activities include brisk walking, riding a bike, or more strenuous cleaning activities (like yard work or mopping). Vigorous-intensity activities include jogging, hiking, shoveling, or many standard exercise routines.

While it can be hard to carve out time in our busy days, prioritizing your health, both physical and mental, is important. Plus, many home maintenance projects fall into the moderate-intensity activities bucket, so you don’t need to hit up a cycling class every day.

Finding ways to add more activity and movement into your daily life will bring numerous health benefits—so get moving!

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