In a fascinating new study of how exercise and sedentary behavior can impact health, those who spent more hours sitting were at increased risk of dying prematurely. The study, published recently in a special edition of the British Journal of Sports Medicine, analyzed physical activity data from more than 44,000 middle-aged and older adults. Results suggested that people who were most sedentary faced a higher mortality risk.
But what’s interesting about the study is that even among those who sat for as much as 8.5 hours a day, getting just 11 minutes of moderate exercise was enough to significantly decrease some of the effects of sedentarism, including premature death.
Not surprisingly, this is wasn’t the first study to examine the relationships between prolonged sitting and health. Several other analyses have linked lengthy times spent sitting down, particularly watching television, to an increased risk for type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and certain types of cancer.
Sitting for prolonged periods of time is increasingly common, especially now that the pandemic has made our lives more recluse and sedentary than usual. According to a 2019 analysis of 16 years of data gathered by the National Center for Health and Statistics, the average US adult spends about 6.5 hours a day sitting. Teenagers 12 to 19 years of age spend as much as 8 hours sitting each day.
The Problem with Sitting Too Much
More time spent watching TV, scrolling on our phones, and working on the computer means that nowadays, most people are spending more time sitting than ever before. And some argue that our bodies didn’t evolve to be so sedentary.
When we sit, we use less energy than we do when standing or walking around, which, according to some experts, can slow down the metabolism and hinder the body’s ability to break down fat, and regulate blood sugar and pressure. The body burns far fewer calories when sitting than standing or moving. That’s why sedentary behavior is so closely related to weight gain and obesity.
Mounting epidemiological evidence also suggests that sitting or lying for extended periods can lead to increase insulin resistance, which is strongly associated with common chronic conditions like diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and heart disease. Sitting for prolonged periods can also lead to muscle weakening, increasing the risk for falls and exercise-related strains.
What the Recommendations Say
Experts aren’t sure how much physical activity is needed to counter the effects of sitting fully. The investigators of this study found that regardless of how long people sat, about 35 minutes a day of brisk walking or exercising at a moderate pace seemed to yield the most significant statistical improvement on longevity. Just 11 minutes of moderate physical activity each day, although not enough to counter the effects of sitting all day, also seemed to reduce the risk of premature death.
Most health agencies, including the American Heart Association (AHA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the World Health Organization (WHO) recommend that adults get at least 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of physical activity of moderate-intensity or higher every week. Why 150 minutes? Because research shows that the equivalent of 150 minutes of exercise weekly reduces the risk for:
- Heart disease
- Type 2 diabetes
- High blood pressure
- Depression and anxiety
- Early death
Challenge yourself to get moving!
Choosing to add even a small amount of physical activity to your day can lead to big benefits and increased longevity. Every bout of physical activity or exercise contributes to a fitter, healthier, and very likely, happier you!
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