I don’t have to tell you that sitting all day is bad for your health.

Past research revealed sitting for prolonged periods can lead to cardiovascular disease and diabetes as well as increased risk of death from all causes. People who work in occupations where they have to stand a great deal of the time live longer, on average, than those whose jobs require them to sit.

But what if you’re stuck in that sedentary job or simply don’t live an active lifestyle, is there still hope? You bet!

Brand-new research from the World Health Organization (WHO) shows you can counter the health risks of sitting by increasing the amount of physical activity you do. Best of all, a little activity goes a long way.2

The study performed in 2020 involved more than 44,000 people who wore activity trackers. Researchers found that those with the highest daily sedentary time (ten hours or more) faced a heightened risk of death, especially those who were physically inactive. No big surprise there.

However, the report found that 30 to 40 daily minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity dramatically reduced this risk, bringing it down to levels associated with very low amounts of time spent on your hind end.

New WHO Health Guidelines

Because of the findings, the WHO issued new physical activity guidelines to reflect how any health risks associated with prolonged sitting can be offset by exceeding the minimum recommended weekly physical activity levels for a person.

The WHO published its new guidelines in The British Journal of Sports Medicine, and here are the key points…

  • Aim to do 150 to 300 minutes of moderate intensity, or 75 to150 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity, or some equivalent combination of moderate intensity and vigorous intensity aerobic physical activity every week.
  • Moderate physical activity is described as anything that gets your heart rate up but also allows for conversation, such as brisk walking, dancing, or mowing the lawn. Meanwhile, vigorous physical activity substantially increases heart rate and breathing rate and includes activities such as cycling, jogging, swimming, walking up the stairs, or playing tennis.
  • Reduce sedentary behavior and aim to exceed these weekly recommendations to offset health harms of prolonged sitting.
  • Older adults (65+) should opt for some physical activity focusing on functional balance and strength training at moderate intensity on three or more days of the week, to enhance functional capacity and prevent falls.

Best of all…All Movement Counts!

Past guidelines stated that physical activity had to be sustained for at least ten minutes to be beneficial for health. But the new research shows that physical movement of any length of time improves all health outcomes and reduces risk of death.

This can mean a five-minute brisk walk around the block or a bit of gardening can be included in your weekly exercise tally.

“These guidelines are very timely, given that we are in the middle of a global pandemic, which has confined people indoors for long periods and encouraged an increase in sedentary behavior,” says the British Journal of Sports Medicine co-editor Professor Emmanuel Stamatakis.

“But people can still protect their health and offset the harmful effects of physical inactivity. As these guidelines emphasize, all physical activity counts and any amount of it is better than none.”

I think it’s important to add that even performing household chores like washing dishes or vacuuming can make a difference. Of course, the less physically intense the activity, the more minutes you’ll need to gain the dramatic health benefits spoken of here—but you get the drift.

My Takeaway

Everyone needs to be active for at least 30 minutes on a daily basis.  There is a real benefit in picking up the pace and not counting on just your general day to day tasks for your only activity…mix it up!  If you’re new to exercise, start slowly and increase your frequency, intensity and duration over time.  Even a short walk up and down your street will raise your heart rate and start to condition your body for longer, more exuberant activities.

  1. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(16)30370-1/fulltext 
  2. https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/54/24/1451 

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