Research from the US has recently found that staying on your can for too long can increase your risk of dying prematurely even after taking regular exercise into consideration.
The study observed that total sedentary time and duration per instance of inactivity were associated with one’s the increase in risk, with the greatest risk experienced by those who spend more than twelve and a half sedentary hours per day and each instance lasting more than ten minutes.
But hold it right there, before you head for the furniture store to purchase a standing table. It’s good to take note of the limitations of the study. All of the eight thousand participants were more than 45 years old and may not be an accurate representation of other age groups. Also, their activity data were collected for only seven days, although their lives were followed for four years. The accelerometer attached to each participant to measure movement was unable to distinguish between postures too.
But despite these limitations, the study reveals an insidious truth: we can achieve our physical activity goals but still have an increased risk of premature death nonetheless just by remaining sedentary for a long time over the course of the day.
Do Not Sit On Making Healthier Changes
Research on adults in Australia suggests that even for physically active people who exercise more than 300 minutes weekly, which is twice the recommended amount of exercise, there still exists an increase in the risk of dying prematurely due to prolonged sitting. And this pattern holds true regardless of sex, age group, body mass indices, suggesting that sitting for prolonged periods of time is by itself a risk factor independent of physical activity. While shocking, it is noteworthy that the results can be misunderstood easily.
For instance, a review of articles published by Australian news outlets between 2000 and 2012 talking about sedentary lifestyles found that many of them suggested that the benefits of an active lifestyle could be negated by too much sitting. This was problematic as they produced a negative effect of “why even try?” responses in many people.
So What Now, Then?
It’s important to differentiate between saying too much sitting negates the benefits of exercise and saying that the risks of premature death due to prolonged sitting exists nevertheless despite frequent exercise, with the latter not discrediting the need for us to maintain healthy amounts of exercise.
The science behind regular exercise benefitting health and prolonging our lives is indisputable. Existing guidelines in the UK states that people are recommended to perform 150 minutes of physical activity a week.
Moreover, since one of the factors affecting the risk of premature death is the duration, frequent exercise spread over the course of a day or week helps to break up sitting periods.
Stay On The Move
There are many opportunities for us city-dwellers to take advantage of daily circumstances to stay on our feet while being productive. Some simple lifestyle changes made into habitual behaviours go a long way to contribute to our longevity.
Add Activity Segments to Your Daily Commute
You can start by planning your usual route to work with walking or cycling segments. One way is to stop one or two bus stops from your destination and finish the rest of the journey on foot or on bicycles. You can also walk or cycle for one or two stops before getting on public transport; this way you can cool off on the rest of the way. What’s more, you can soak up some sunshine and fresh air too! Taking a short climb up the stairs to your home or your office instead of taking the elevator and escalator all the way is also a very good way of introducing some activity.
Take Frequent Work Breaks
Do not neglect physical activity while you are at work too (unless you are a fitness coach by profession). Take periodic breaks to get your blood moving and warm up stiff muscles, but not too frequent that your boss begins to pay attention. This can be as simple as going to the pantry for a glass of water, helping the staff welfare department with simple errands (benefits you too) or taking a quick stroll outside the office. Getting up to discuss work matters with your colleagues face-to-face is also another excuse to insert some activity into your work day and you can reduce some emails too!
If hitting the gym is inconvenient for you and going downstairs for a run is impossible (perhaps because you are taking care of a child), callisthenics, or exercises using your body weight, are handy activities you can do anywhere. Waiting for the microwave timer? Do some push-ups. Watching the TV? Do leg-raises or sit-ups. Reading a book? Read standing and do knee-raises. Not only are you able to break up sitting time, but you can also burn off some fat and strengthen your muscles all at one go.
Be Creative And Attentive
Your road to health does not always have to be marked with long gym sessions or mind-numbing runs. Design it as a combination of intense exercise while not neglecting pockets of time and opportunity where you can sneak in something you can do on the spot to up your basal activity.
Remember, it’s to break up chunks of inactive periods and finding reasons to get up from your seat.