People who sit for long periods are more likely to die earlier – but moderate-to-vigorous activity can eliminate the risk
Going for a brisk walk for just 22 minutes once a day may be enough to offset the negative health effects of sitting too much, research suggests.
Sedentary lifestyles are among the leading causes of ill health worldwide. Millions of people who sit for long periods, watching TV or working at a computer, for example, are more likely to die earlier.
But moderate-to-vigorous physical activity can eliminate this increased risk from being sedentary, according to the study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
Experts examined data for 11,989 people aged over 50, half of whom were women, from Norway, Sweden and the US. People in the study had worn activity trackers that measured their moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MPVA).
Examples of moderate activity include very brisk walking (4mph or faster), heavy cleaning such as washing windows or mopping, cycling at 10-12mph or badminton. Vigorous activity includes hiking, jogging at 6mph or faster, shovelling, fast cycling, a football game, basketball or tennis.
In all, 5,943 people spent less than 10.5 hours sitting every day while 6,042 spent 10.5 or more hours being sedentary. Over a five-year follow-up, 6.7% (805) of the people died.
The author Edvard Sagelv, of the Arctic University of Norway, said: “In our study, we found that only those people doing more than 12 hours per day sitting had a higher risk of death. We are talking about any sitting behaviour – such as being in the office or watching TV for long periods of time.
“In our study, every minute higher MVPA showed a lower risk of death, meaning if people were doing less than 22 minutes (such as 10 minutes) there was still a lower risk of death. However, doing 22 minutes eliminated the higher risk of death from sedentary time.
“This means that if doing 22 minutes or more per day, there was no excess risk from sedentary time. And, if doing more than 22 minutes per day, there was a lower risk of death overall. Basically, the more the better.”
The findings support the UK chief medical officer’s recommendation that people aim for 150 minutes of MVPA per week – about 21 minutes per day.
The study concludes: “Efforts to promote physical activity may have substantial health benefits for individuals and small amounts of MVPA may be an effective strategy to ameliorate mortality risk associated with high sedentary time.”
Regina Giblin, a senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: “This research supports previous findings that show the negative effects of long periods sitting down and the positive impact of exercise.
“There are some simple tips that can help to spend less time sitting down. Walking away from your computer screen at regular intervals, going for a walk or cooking a healthy meal from scratch are ways to incorporate active time into your day.
“Being active can help you control your weight, reduce your blood pressure and improve your mental health.”