Most people know by now that sitting all day is bad for them, but what’s a gainfully employed desk jockey to do? Quit? Buy a standing desk? Become a feral creature of the woods?
It’s bad enough that there are few feasible options to fight sitting all day, made worse by the fact that the World Health Organization has identified a lack of physical exercise as the fourth-leading risk factor for global mortality — aka why people die. But a recent study may offer a bit of hope for those who spend their days shackled to a chair.
You’re not as powerless as you may think
You may have heard that it doesn’t matter how much you exercise if you’re plopped on your ass for hours at a time, but an international team of researchers decided to see if some — any! — amount of exercise would improve your overall risk of dropping dead.
After poring over data from more than 1 million people, they found that those who engaged in 60 to 75 minutes of moderate activity every day would effectively eliminate the increased risk of early death. This is crucial knowledge for those who commute, sit down in an office for eight-plus hours, commute again, then watch TV all night.
Dr. Michael Smith, medical director and chief medical editor of WebMD, says that this study is great news. “The fact that you can counteract all those hours of sitting with moderate levels of activity means anyone can do this without having to hit the gym,” he explains. “Walking at 3.5mph, which is the level of activity the researchers found could turn things around, is a very moderate level of activity.”
But that’s… a lot of exercise. Every day.
While “an hour” and “moderate physical activity” may sound like, well, a lot of moving around, especially if you’re so caught up in the daily grind that extra minutes are super hard to come by, they may not be quite as bad as they sound.
“You don’t have to pound away on your neighborhood pavement for a solid hour all at once.”
If you don’t have 60 to 75 minutes of free time to get your workout in, Dr. Smith says there’s still a solution — increase the intensity of the workout to max out on the benefits in less time. “While this study doesn’t show that, it’s reasonable to expect that intense activity will be even more beneficial than moderate levels,” Dr. Smith notes. “It’s certainly better than no activity because you don’t have time.”
Also, he says that you don’t have to pound away on your neighborhood pavement for a solid hour all at once to counteract all your ass-sitting. Taking 10 minutes here and there over the course of your day to run up the stairs or take a walk around your office — it all adds up.
If you’re not sure you’re walking fast enough, either download a walking app that keeps track of that sort of thing for you, or note how long it takes you to walk a mile; a mile in 17 minutes or less is your goal.
Don’t take this as an excuse to plop in front of the TV all day
“As someone whose job is somewhat sedentary, I’m very happy to hear that exercise can undo the ill effects,” Dr. Smith adds. “However, let’s not let that keep us from looking for opportunities during the workday, or even during commercials while watching TV, to stand and stretch out our muscles.” In other words, don’t take this study to mean that you should sit as much as possible every day, and as long as you get your hour of physical activity in, you should be A-OK.
Take breaks, take the stairs, take walks, and get up off your butt as often as your work will allow. No matter what, make sure you don’t park your carcass on the couch at the end of your workday and wallow in your misery. Getting more physical exercise helps combat stress, weight issues, and improves overall health, and as you’ve seen from the most recent research, it can help keep you from, you know, dying for no good reason at all. So get moving.