It’s no secret that sitting for long periods of time can harm your health. Research has linked being sedentary with obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even cancer.
And new research shows that Americans are sitting more than ever before.
Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that from 2001 to 2016, people of all ages sat and watched TV or videos for an average of two hours a day.1 Which doesn’t sound too awful until you consider that adolescents and adults also spent another hour a day sitting and using their computers, tablets, or phones outside of work.
That adds up to an average of three hours of leisure time spent sitting—every day! And considering that most Americans also spend most of their work or school day sitting at desks (not to mention more sitting during their commutes), it’s not unusual for the average person to spend half a day or more on their rear ends.
Fortunately, a major new study shows that there’s a simple way to counterbalance all of this sedentary behavior. Not surprisingly, it all comes down to moderation—as do most things in life and health.
Moderate exercise can combat excessive sitting
The study involved about 150,000 Australian men and women over the age of 45.2 Each participant answered surveys over at least a seven-year period about how often they sat and stood, how much they exercised, and other health-related information.
And a major finding surfaced: The people who sat more than six hours per day and got less than 150 minutes of physical activity per week had the highest risk of early death (specifically death from heart disease).
This finding is in line with all the recent science showing the health benefits of moderate weekly exercise.
Another interesting finding was that no matter how much participants sat each day, those who were active 150 to 299 minutes a week were still substantially protected against early death.
But the participants who had zero to 149 minutes of physical activity a week had increased death rates no matter how much, or how little, they sat per day.
Also, for the people who sat less than six hours per day, swapping out an hour of sitting for an hour of high-level physical activity still had only marginal benefits on mortality.
However, people who sat more than six hours a day lowered their risk of premature death simply by trading one extra hour of activity for one hour of sitting. And that activity was beneficial whether it was rigorous, moderate, or slow (like an evening stroll).
Less than an hour a day keeps the reaper away
What this study shows is that even if you sit all day at your job (and during some of your leisure time), staying healthy is easier than you think. Here are your options on what you need to do:
- Get between 2.5 and five hours a week of moderate physical activity like swimming, gardening, or walking at a pace during which you’re increasing your breathing rate.
- If you don’t get that level of activity, reduce your daily sitting time to four hours or less.
Of course, I highly recommend option number one, because exercise has countless additional benefits for your body and brain.
Bottom line: Get off your bottom for even just an hour a day, and replace it with an hour (or even just 30 minutes) of moderate physical activity.
And there’s no better time to start than during the summer. Why not take the whole family for an after-dinner walk tonight?
You’ll meet your neighbors (at least the active ones), learn about your community, and reconnect with nature. These are priceless benefits for your physical, mental, and emotional health and well-being that you’re just not getting while watching TV or playing a video game.
1“Joint Prevalence of Sitting Time and Leisure-Time Physical Activity Among US Adults, 2015-2016.” JAMA. 2018;320(19):2036-2038.
2“Sitting Time, Physical Activity, and Risk of Mortality in Adults.” Journal of the American College of Cardiology Apr 2019, 73 (16) 2062-2072.