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One hour of exercise can undo the damage from sitting all day

Increased death rates linked to prolonged sitting are cancelled out by one hour of moderate activity daily

Ingrid Torjesen

Thursday, 28 July 2016

The health risks associated with sitting for eight or more hours a day - whether at work, home or commuting - can be eliminated with an hour or more of physical activity a day, says a study* published in The Lancet.

The researchers used data from 16 studies on more than one million people. The data were segmented into four quartiles depending on participants’ level of moderate intensity physical activity, ranging from less than 5 minutes per day in the bottom group to over 60 minutes in the top. Moderate intensity exercise was defined as equating to walking at 3.5 miles/hour or cycling at 10 miles/hour, for example.

The researchers found that 60 to 75 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per day were sufficient to eliminate the increased risk of early death associated with sitting for over eight hours per day. However, as many as three out of four people in the study failed to reach this level of daily activity.

The greatest risk of early death was for those individuals who were physically inactive, regardless of the amount of time sitting - they were between 28% and 59% more likely to die early compared with those who were in the most active quartile - a similar risk to that associated with smoking and obesity. In other words, lack of physical activity is a greater health risk than prolonged sitting.

Lead researcher Professor Ulf Ekelund from the Medical Research Council Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge, said that it is possible to reduce - or even eliminate – the impact of a predominantly sedentary lifestyle if we are active enough, even without taking up sports or going to the gym.

"For many people who commute to work and have office-based jobs, there is no way to escape sitting for prolonged periods of time. For these people in particular, we cannot stress enough the importance of getting exercise, whether it's getting out for a walk at lunchtime, going for a run in the morning or cycling to work. An hour of physical activity per day is the ideal, but if this is unmanageable, then at least doing some exercise each day can help reduce the risk," he said.


* Ekelund U, et al. Does physical activity attenuate, or even eliminate, the detrimental association of sitting time with mortality? A harmonised meta-analysis of data from more than 1 million men and women. The Lancet, 2016. DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(16)30370-1

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