Harmful effects from sitting all day offset by just 30 minutes of daily physical activity, WHO says

SYDNEY — The war on sitting has ramped up in recent years. Some experts consider being glued to a chair all day as “the new smoking,” and can even take years off one’s lifespan. But if you don’t have a choice thanks to the demands of a desk job, you can still wipe away the damage from a sedentary lifestyle. People can avoid an early death by offsetting the harmful effects of prolonged sitting just through upping their exercise regimen, say health experts.

New research shows that adults who increase their amount of physical activity can bring their risk of death down to the equivalent of having spent a very low amount of time sitting. The World Health Organization (WHO) says 150 to 300 minutes of moderate intensity exercise a week, or 70 to 100 minutes of vigorous exercise a week, is enough to lower the risks of sedentary behavior.

You don’t need a gym membership either to reap these benefits. Anything physical counts for moderate physical activity: taking the stairs, doing housework, walking around the block, or even gardening. More vigorous exercise includes activities like running, swimming or team sports.

From climbing the stairs to dancing, any exercise can reduce harms from sitting

For their study, researchers asked more than 44,000 people to wear activity trackers and found those who sat for more than 10 or more hours saw a significantly heightened risk of death. Just 30 to 40 minutes of daily physical activity is all that is needed to keep that risk down, however. Even if people are not meeting the recommended amount, anything is better than none according to the guidelines.

“These new global guidelines emphasize the importance of all people being active and acknowledge that all movement counts for better health and wellbeing – be it climbing the stairs or even household cleaning,” says Emmanuel Stamatakis, a professor at the University of Sydney who co-chaired WHO’s Guidelines Development Group, in a release.

Boosting global health would increase the world’s gross domestic product between 0.15 percent and 0.24 percent a year between now and 2050, the researchers estimate. That’s worth up to $314 to $446 billion a year and $6 to $8.6 trillion cumulatively over the 30 years in 2019 prices.

“Although the new guidelines reflect the best available science, there are still some gaps in our knowledge,” notes Stamatakis. “We are still not clear, for example, where exactly the bar for ‘too much sitting’ is. But this is a fast paced field of research, and we will hopefully have answers in a few years’ time.”

No excuses, even in COVID era

Stamatakis says the findings are particularly significant while COVID-19 continues to ravage the planet. “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,” he says. “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. There are plenty of indoor options that don’t need a lot of space or equipment, such as climbing the stairs, active play with children or pets, dancing, or online yoga or Pilates classes.”

The authors also note that slightly more than a quarter of adults (27.5 percent) worldwide and eight in ten teenaged children do not meet recommendations for aerobic exercise. They say it’s even more reason for governments to put national exercise initiatives into place.

The findings are published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

SWNS writer Joe Morgan contributed to this report.

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