We know that spending a lot of time sitting isn’t good for us at all, but how much exercise does it take to counteract the negative effects of sitting all day?
Research shows that about 30-40 minutes a day of sweating is enough.
According to the research, up to 40 minutes of “moderate to vigorous-intensity physical activity” each day is adequate to balance 10 hours of sedentary sitting – although any exercise or even just standing up helps to some extent.
This finding is 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 people with more sedentary lifestyles increased as time spent in moderate to vigorous physical activity decreased.
“In active individuals who did about 30-40 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, the association between high amounts of time spent sitting and the risk of death was not significantly different from those with low amounts of time spent sitting ,” the researchers explain in their paper.
In other words, if you engage in any relatively vigorous activities – cycling, brisk walking, gardening – this can reduce your risk of early death to the level you would be if you were sedentary, as this link can be seen in the collected data on thousands of people.
While meta-analyses such as this always require complex relationships between individual studies with different volunteers, time frames, and conditions, the advantage of this particular study is that it relies on relatively objective data from wearable electronic devices rather than participant self-reported data.
At the time, the study was published to coincide with the release of the World Health Organization’s 2020 Global Guidelines on Physical Activity and Sedentary Status, drawn up by 40 scientists from six continents. The British Journal of Sports Medicine (BHSM) also published a special issue in which both the study and the revised guidelines were published.
“As these recommendations emphasize, all physical activity matters and any amount is better than none,” says physical activity and population health researcher Emmanuel Stamatakis of the University of Sydney, Australia.
“People can still protect their health and offset the harmful effects of lack of physical activity.”
The study, based on fitness trackers, broadly in line with the 2020 WHO guidelines, which recommend 150-300 min of moderate-intensity physical activity or 75-150 min of vigorous-intensity physical activity each week to counteract sedentary behaviour.
Taking the stairs instead of the elevator, playing with the kids and pets, participating in yoga or dancing, doing housework, walking, and riding a bike are all presented as ways people can be more active—and if you can’t to manage 30-40 minutes at a time, researchers say you should start small.
Making recommendations for all ages and body types is difficult, although the 40-minute activity duration is consistent with previous research. As more data is published, we will learn more about how to maintain our health, even if we have to spend long hours at a desk.
“Although the new guidelines reflect the best available scientific evidence, there are still some gaps in our knowledge,” says Stamatakis.
“For example, we’re still not clear exactly where the cutoff for ‘too much sitting’ is.” But this is a rapidly developing area of research and hopefully in a few years we will have answers.”
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