We know that spending a lot of time sitting isn’t good for us, but how much exercise does it take to counteract the negative health effects of sitting all day?
Research suggests that you should do this for about 30-40 minutes a day to generate sweat.
Up to 40 minutes of “moderate to vigorous-intensity physical activity” each day is about the right amount to balance out 10 hours of sitting still, the research says, although any amount of exercise or even just standing still helps to some extent.
That’s based on a meta-analysis study published in 2020 that analyzed nine previous studies involving a total of 44,370 people in four different countries who wore some form of fitness tracker.
The analysis found that the risk of death among those with a more sedentary lifestyle increased as time spent in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity decreased.
“In active individuals who do about 30-40 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, the association between prolonged sitting and the risk of death is not significantly different from those with little sitting time,” the researchers explain in their paper.
In other words, putting in some reasonably intense activities like cycling, brisk walking, gardening can reduce the risk of early death to what it would be if you didn’t do all that sitting, to the extent that this connection can be seen in the collected data of many thousands of people.
While meta-analyses like this one always require some elaborate joining of the dots across separate studies with different volunteers, time frames, and conditions, the strength of this particular piece of research is that it relied on relatively objective wearable data rather than self-reported data. participants.
At the time, the study was published alongside the publication of the World Health Organization’s 2020 Global Guidelines on Physical Activity and Sedentary Behavior, which was compiled by 40 scientists from six continents. The British Journal of Sports Medicine (BHSM) has also published a special issue that will carry both the study and the revised guidelines.
“As these guidelines emphasize, all physical activity counts and any amount is better than none,” said physical activity and population health researcher Emmanuel Stamatakis of the University of Sydney in Australia..
“People can still protect their health and offset the harmful effects of physical inactivity.”
Research based on fitness trackers is largely consistent with the 2020 WHO guidelines, which recommend 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75-150 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity each week to counter sedentary behavior.
Taking the stairs instead of the elevator, playing with children and pets, participating in yoga or dancing, doing housework, walking and cycling are all presented as ways people can be more active, and if you can’t manage 30-40 minutes right away, researchers say, start small.
Making recommendations for all ages and body types is difficult, although the 40-minute time frame for activity fits with previous research. As more data is released, we should learn more about how to stay healthy even if we have to spend long periods of time at the desk.
“Although the new guidelines reflect the best available science, there are still some gaps in our knowledge,” Stamatakis said.
“We’re still not clear, for example, exactly where the limit is for ‘too much sitting’. But this is a rapidly developing field of research and we hope to have answers in a few years.”
The research is published here and the 2020 guidelines are available here, at British Journal of Sports Medicine. Additional information is available here.
An earlier version of this article was published in November 2020.
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