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May 22, 2019

Exercise Helps Minimize Health Effects of Too Much Sitting

Australian study finds five hours of exercise a week helps eliminate mortality risk associated with sedentary time.

Getting regular exercise helps minimize the effects at sitting all day at work, finds a survey study of nearly 150,000 adults in New South Wales, Australia. Findings were published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology and suggest exercise helps offset health risks from our largely sedentary lives.

Known as the 45 and Up Study, this study surveyed Australian adults about their health and lifestyle—including how much time they spent active versus sitting in front of the TV, computer or otherwise. Researchers then tracked survival to see how exercise and inactivity impact mortality risk.

It’s well established that sedentary time increases risk for conditions like obesity, diabetes, heart disease and even death. We also know that getting regular exercise—at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity a week—can reduce risk of these conditions and improve overall health. However, it’s unclear just how much exercise we need to offset the effects of our sedentary lifestyles.

The recent study included a total of 149,077 Australian adults who were followed for nine years. During the study period, there were a total of 8,689 deaths—1,644 of which were from heart disease.

After analysis, researchers found that the more time participants spent sedentary, the greater their risk of death. For example, among adults that reported no regular exercise, those who spent eight or more hours a day sitting had 52% greater risk of death than those who sat fewer than four hours a day.

It’s a significant finding, given that half of the U.S. population reports no regular exercise and spends much of their day sitting.

The good news, however, is that exercise appears to offset the health risks associated with sedentary time. In the recent study, getting 150–299 minutes of exercise a week helped reduce mortality risk associated with sitting time. Researchers also found that excess risk from sedentary time was eventually eliminated in adults who got five or more hours of exercise a week. Additionally, adults who replaced sitting time with walking or other activities had significant reductions in mortality risk over the study period.

While findings are promising, inactivity remains a major public health issue. A second study, which was published in JAMA: Open Network, reports that more than half of women with heart disease don’t get the recommended levels of exercise. The study surveyed more than 18,000 women with heart disease about their health and lifestyle between 2006 and 2016. During this 10-year period, inactivity rates increased among women, as did health care costs associated with inactivity.

The take-home message, according to experts, is the importance of staying active. Exercise is one of the best ways to promote good health, and all it takes is doing moderate activities like walking or yardwork for a half-hour on most days of the week. Limiting sedentary time is equally as important, as sitting for long periods of time can have negative effects on health. For those of us who can’t eliminate sitting time completely, findings suggest that increasing exercise levels can help offset the effects of a sedentary lifestyle.

Questions for You to Consider

  • How much exercise do I need?
  • Regular physical activity is important for both children and adults. According to the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans:

    • Children and adolescents should get 60 minutes or more of physical activity daily.
    • Optimum exercise levels for adults includes:
      • 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise (or a combination of the two) each week.
      • Activity spread across the week with periods of aerobic exercise of at least 10 minutes at a time.
      • Muscle strengthening activities 2 or more days a week.
  • How does sedentary time affect heart health?
  • Many studies have shown that time spent inactive—sitting or lying down—can have a negative impact on our health, increasing risk for heart disease and diabetes. Experts suggest that limiting or reducing sedentary time can help improve heart health, even if it means simply standing up or walking instead of sitting down for an hour or two a day.

Infographic: Active Living

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