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Health risks of sitting offset by sweating

Mother and daughter exercising at home

It’s well known that prolonged sitting increases our risk of premature death, but new research suggests that risk may be lessened by getting a good daily workout.

The meta-analysis of more than 44,000 people wearing activity trackers, shows that being sedentary for 10 or more hours a day is linked to a significantly heightened risk of early death, particularly among people who are physically inactive.

But 30 to 40 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity a day substantially weakens this risk, the researchers say.

Some previous studies have concluded exercise doesn’t offset the harm caused by prolonged sitting. While other analyses did find an association between exercise and reduced all-cause and cardiovascular disease mortality in people who sit a lot, but it was unclear exactly how much physical activity was needed to lower the risk.

Fresh WHO exercise guidelines

The new findings were published today in the British Journal of Sports Medicine and are in keeping with new World Health Organization guidelines for physical activity, which were published in the same issue.

The WHO guidelines recommend adults aim to do 150-300 minutes of moderate, or 75-150 minutes of vigorous, exercise each week (or a combination of both intensities) and aim to do muscle-strengthening activities at least two days a week.

The WHO also recommends exceeding the exercise targets, where possible, to offset the harms of prolonged sitting.

For people aged over 65, the WHO says physical activity needs to emphasise balance and strength training of a moderate or greater intensity, at least three days a week, to help maintain fitness and prevent falls.

WHO guideline development lead Fiona Bull says around a quarter of adults and three-quarters of teenagers don’t meet exercise targets.

Get your heart pumping and your breath going

Moderate exercise, such as brisk walking, raking or dancing, increases heart and breathing rates, but it’s still possible to talk.

Vigorous exercise substantially increases heart and breathing rates, for example cycling, running, swimming, carrying heavy objects, walking up the stairs, digging the garden or playing tennis.

For ways to avoid a sedentary lifestyle check out Deskercise: 20 ways to get moving at work and Kick-start exercise plan.

Article sources and references

Date modified: 26 November 2020
First published: Nov 2020


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