We all know by now that regular exercise is a critical component of overall health and wellness. Exercise is key in preventing stroke and heart disease, and can reduce risks of nearly every other disease, from cancer to diabetes. And Americans seem to be taking this to heart, at least if the proliferation of commercial gyms and fitness-oriented businesses, from Orange Theory to CrossFit to the corner yoga studio, are any indication.
But a new study shows that your 30-minute vigorous walk or workout five days a week (the current recommendation by the American Heart Association) may not be enough to counteract the risks of our increasingly sedentary nature of modern life.
A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, led by a Columbia University Medical Center researcher, found that people who spent more than 12.5 hours a day inactive (i.e. sitting or standing still) for durations longer than 10 minutes at a time had the highest risk of all-cause mortality—even if they hit the gym every morning or otherwise exercised regularly. People with the longest periods of being sedentary were more than twice as likely to die of all causes during the four-year study period than those with the shortest periods of staying seated and still.
Though this was an observational study of nearly 8,000 adults over a four year period (and “observational” means it only implies correlation, not causality), the researchers hypothesize that prolonged inactivity can lead to metabolic challenges, affecting how the body metabolizes sugars, and over time this sedentariness and lack of muscular activity can result in accumulating excess fat and raising the risk of diabetes, obesity, heart disease, cancer and death.
The fix? Get up and move more frequently, at least every 30 minutes, an obesity expert at the Mayo Clinic suggests. A morning workout is not sufficient to undue the effects of prolonged inactivity the rest of the day, so beware the chair! Sitting too much for too long is dangerous to your health.