How Much Exercise Is Needed to Balance Out a Day of Sitting, According to Scientists (Picture Credit – Pexels)
According to research, dedicating around 30 to 40 minutes daily to vigorous exercise can counter the detrimental health effects of sitting for prolonged periods. This level of physical activity is sufficient to offset the risks associated with 10 hours of sedentary behaviour. Even though any amount of physical activity or merely standing can be beneficial, the suggested exercise intensity is to engage in moderate to vigorous activities. This recommendation stems from a 2020 meta-analysis that reviewed nine studies, encompassing 44,370 individuals across four nations who monitored their activity levels with fitness trackers. The findings indicated that sedentary individuals who increased their levels of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity reduced their mortality risk.
The researchers noted in their publication that individuals who engage in 30-40 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity exercise, such as cycling, brisk walking
, or gardening, can neutralize the heightened risk of premature death associated with extended periods of sitting. This effect is evident in the data from thousands of participants across various studies.
Meta-analyses require careful synthesis of data from various studies that may have different participants, durations, and conditions. However, the advantage of this study is its reliance on more objective wearable device data rather than self-reported information from the subjects.
When the study was published, it coincided with the release of the 2020 Global Guidelines on Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour by the World Health Organization, crafted by 40 experts from six continents. Additionally, the British Journal of Sports Medicine highlighted these findings and the updated guidelines in a special issue.
Emmanuel Stamatakis, a specialist in physical activity and population health from the University of Sydney, emphasized that any physical activity is beneficial and far preferable to none. He noted that it’s possible to maintain health and counteract the adverse effects of a sedentary lifestyle.
The findings from the wearable fitness tracker study align closely with the WHO’s 2020 recommendations, which advocate for 150-300 minutes of moderate activity or 75-150 minutes of more intense exercise weekly to balance out sedentary habits.
The guidelines suggest various everyday activities to increase physical activity, such as opting for stairs over elevators, engaging in play with children and pets, participating in yoga or dance, performing household tasks, and using walking or cycling as forms of transportation. For those unable to meet the 30-40 minute activity target initially, the researchers advise starting with shorter durations and gradually increasing the activity level.
Crafting guidelines that apply universally to people of all ages and body types is challenging, but the recommendation for 40 minutes of physical activity is supported by existing studies. As research continues to evolve, more insights are expected on how to maintain health despite long hours of sedentary work.
Stamatakis acknowledges that while the latest guidelines incorporate the most up-to-date science, there are still unanswered questions. For instance, the threshold for ‘excessive sitting’ isn’t precisely determined. However, with the rapid progress in this area of research, he anticipates that more definitive answers will be available in the coming years.