The Exercise Needed to Counteract a Day’s Worth of Sitting


Scott Henderson

You know that saying doing the rounds, the one that goes ‘sitting is the new smoking’? Well without causing panic, it’s very much spot on. 

In a study released post-pandemic from the World Health Organization (WHO), the dangers of sitting and living a sedentary lifestyle result in serious ill health and a heightened risk of early death. What’s scarier is that the levels associated with health risks are well within the realms of modern working culture, particularly those who work in an office environment. 

According to the study, a high level of sedentary time is defined as 10 hour or more – essentially a working day – although the limit for ‘too much sitting’ has not yet been determined (ie. the point of no return). 

“Although the new guidelines reflect the best available science, there are still some gaps in our knowledge,” suggests Professor Emmanuel Stamatkis of University of Sydney. “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.” 

However, what the researchers did discover is that the effects of sitting for this period can be offset through 30 to 40 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity, according to new recommendations published by WHO as a result of further insights derived from the research. The new global guidelines on physical activity and sedentary behaviour were published in British Journal of Sports Medicine and were based on a study of more than 44,000 people in four countries. 

“These guidelines are very timely, given that we are … confined indoors for long periods and encouraged an increase in sedentary behaviour,” says Professor Stamatkis. 

Fear not, as the results don’t demonstrate that you need to hit a 40-minute CrossFit class every day to offset the damage done through driving your desk. In fact, the researchers were very careful to highlight that “all physical activity counts”, including substituting incidental exercise in the place of convenience; taking the stairs instead of the elevator, going for a walk around the block, moving house, doing the gardening. Essentially, anything that gets the heart rate above 60 per cent is WHO certified. 

The WHO recommends you add it all up so that your weekly activity goals should look a little something like this: 

  • 150-300 minutes of moderate intensity 

  • At least 75-100 minutes of vigorous intensity, physical activity 

  • Undertake muscle-strengthening activity (such as weights, core conditioning) at moderate or greater intensity on 2 or more days of the week. 

  • Reduce sedentary behaviour wherever possible 

Scott Henderson

Please note: Scott's blog is general advice only. For further information on this topic, please consult your healthcare professional.

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