An analysis of nine studies comes up with a definitive (and surprisingly doable) number.
Every couple of years the media delivers dire news: some apparently harmless aspect of everyday life is in fact conspiring to kill you. Several years ago the culprit was sitting. "Sitting is the new smoking" blared headline after headline atop articles that warned of new scientific findings that showed sitting at your desk all day caused metabolic changes that could put you in an early grave.
But as often happens with health scares, as the years ticked by the message softened. inactivity is indeed terrible for you, but the effects could likely be counteracted by consciously adding more activity into your day.
What's the antidote to so much sitting?
But how much moving around do you need to undo the damage your chair-based lifestyle is doing to your body? Do you need to invest in a treadmill desk and spend hours using it? Are CrossFit levels of fitness required? Or does standing up every once in a while to grab a snack do the trick?
These are simple questions but deeply important ones for desk jockeys who don't want to be slowly killed by their chairs. Which is why scientists have been hard at work on the question since the original panic erupted, offering a variety of different takes on how much exercise you should aim for if your job keeps you planted on your butt most of the day. Their efforts are much appreciated, but could we have a single, actionable recommendation, please?
Recently one arrived. Enough data had piled up over the years for scientists to conduct a meta analysis of nine studies looking at the fitness tracker data of 40,000 participants across four countries. These efforts, published in The British Journal of Sports Medicine, now offer anxious entrepreneurs a clear answer -- 30 to 40 minutes of moderate activity a day is enough to counteract the negative health effects of sitting all day.
"In active individuals doing about 30-40 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity, the association between high sedentary time and risk of death is not significantly different from those with low amounts of sedentary time," the researchers wrote.
Which means even if your job has you sitting eight or ten hours at a stretch, if you get your heart rate up for a half hour a day, you stand no greater chance of dying than those not glued to their chairs.
Any kind of physical activity counts.
Even better news is what counts as moderate activity. Running or cycling are great, but even chasing your kids around, dancing in your living room, or replanting your rose bushes counts as long as it gets you breathing heavily.
"All physical activity counts and any amount of it is better than none," commented Emmanuel Stamatakis, a professor of physical activity who co-edited the special issue of the journal announcing the results.
These findings follow a long line of other study results finding again and again that the basics of good physical health are more attainable than many people think. Just a little bit of walking or even mere seconds of super vigorous exercise have been shown to help people live longer and healthier.
Health recommendations and diet and exercise trends can be confusing or unattainable. If you feel like you're never going to measure up, it's easy to give up instead. This definitive study on counteracting the effects of sitting (and the other findings like it) is a great anecdote for wellness advice overwhelm. Follow every development and gimmick if you enjoy it, but if your goal is just staying healthy, sensible, attainable amounts of everyday activities will have a big impact. ■
BY JESSICA STILLMAN
NOV 23, 2022 | 620 words