Sitting for long periods of time has negative health effects – but you can counteract them by getting in the recommended dose of moderate or vigorous exercise each week.
Sitting is now the new smoking, as an analysis of the comparative risks and harms between the two published last year shows.
Yet there’s no doubt that sitting for extended periods of time isn’t good for your health and is associated with poorer health outcomes and a shorter lifespan. If you work a desk job this could make you worried because it’s often impossible to avoid lengthy sit times, unless your workplace has standing desks. But a new analysis from Australian researchers suggests it is possible to offset the effects of sitting, if you’re willing to put the work in.
Taking data from the 45 and Up Study, a large study following the lives of men and women in New South Wales over the age of 45, the researchers were able to find out about the sitting, physical activity and sleep behaviours of almost 150,000 people.
They linked that data to information about who had died in New South Wales and of what cause, included from cardiovascular disease. That meant they could sort people into groups based on how sedentary they were and see how their physical exercise influenced their cardiovascular risk and lifespan. The researchers followed these people for around nine years.
The results revealed that higher sitting times were linked to a shorter lifespan and a higher risk of death from heart disease. People who were inactive and sat for more than eight hours a day had more than a 100 per cent increased risk of cardiovascular-related death, compared to people who sat less than four hours a day and did an hour of physical activity a day.
But it was really those who sat for lengthy periods and didn’t do any exercise who were most at risk. For those who met the recommended amount of physical activity per week as set out in Australian guidelines, the health risks of sitting seemed to be eliminated or significantly counterbalanced.
Any exercise is good, even a brisk walk – but Australian guidelines suggest you need at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise, per week to stay in good health.
The Australian analysis suggests that’s even more important when you’re sitting for long periods of time each day – so go and get that huff and puff when you can.