It is recommended that you get at least 30 minutes of exercise every day – or 150 minutes a week To stay healthy. But 30 minutes account for only 2% of the day. And many of us spend most of the rest of our time sitting.
Research shows that sitting can be harmful to our health in many ways – some even indicate that it is just as bad for us. Smoking. And the Our new study It revealed that 30 minutes of daily exercise is not enough to overcome the health risks of sitting for long periods. But we also revealed that with the right balance of time spent exercising and movement, it may be possible to counteract the negatives of sitting.
We combined data from six different studies from the United Kingdom, the United States and Sweden, looking at a total of more than 130,000 adults. Each study used a physical activity monitor (such as Fitbit) to measure a person’s movements and sitting time throughout the day. Each study then followed the participants for four to 14 years to track whether any of the participants died.
As expected, we found that 30 minutes of daily exercise reduced the risk of early death by up to 80% for those who also spend less than seven hours per day sitting. But it didn’t have the same effect for people who spent between 11 and 12 hours a day sitting. In other words, it’s not as simple as checking the workout box in the to-do list. A healthy lifestyle requires more than 30 minutes of exercise if you spend a lot of time sitting.
For those who sit a lot, 30 minutes of daily exercise will only reduce the risk of early death by 30% if combined with four to five hours of light movement per day (such as shopping, cooking, or working in the yard) – less than 11 total hours spent sitting. We can think of this combination of light activity, exercise and sitting as a “cocktail.” And when it comes to living an active lifestyle, there are different recipes that you can choose to reap the same benefits.
For example, one person can exercise daily for 30 minutes, and move around throughout the day for about six hours doing activities such as housework or walking to work, but spend about ten hours a day sitting. They will have the same risk of death as someone who exercises 55 minutes a day, moves all day for about four hours, and sits for about 11 hours. In other words, different combinations of exercise and movement can be used to offset the damage caused by sitting.
Our findings provide new insights into what constitutes a healthy and active lifestyle. For decades, scientists have studied the health benefits of exercise – but this research has largely ignored the fact that the way you spend the rest of the day also matters. Instead of recommending that everyone strive to achieve 30 minutes of daily exercise, our results show that physical activity recommendations could be more personalized. People can adopt a mixture of the activity that suits them best.
For many of us, our jobs require us to sit for eight or more hours a day. But when you get home, exercising for one hour and doing light activities for a few hours in the evening (such as housework or yard work) can have health benefits. If you are a stay-at-home parent and you are usually too busy to go to the gym, commuting all day while doing basic tasks (like playing with the kids or throwing away groceries) can improve your health as well.
The caveat, however, is that our study found that six minutes of light activity was equivalent to one minute of moderate to vigorous exercise. So you will need to do 3 hours of light activity to achieve the same benefit as 30 minutes of exercise.
While our study adds important new insights into the ideal balance of movement, we are missing one element: sleep. It’s unclear if the health benefits of exercise and movement are the same if you don’t get enough sleep. Additionally, key questions about how you spend your day – such as whether you should get up 30 minutes before exercising – still need to be studied.
Ultimately, our findings show that a healthy and active lifestyle is more than just exercising for 30 minutes, and that there are many different ways to achieve better health and longevity. While exercise still provides the best “bang for your effort” in terms of the amount of time required, our results are still good news for people who may not have the time, ability, or desire to exercise. The path to an active lifestyle is much more accessible and achievable than we thought – and not just for gym users.
Sebastian ChastainProfessor of Dynamics of Health Behavior of Individuals, Places and Systems, Glasgow Caledonian University And the Keith DiazAssistant Professor of Behavioral Medicine, Columbia University Medical Center
Top image: The more you sit, the more movement you need. Bazaa / Shutterstock production