Does 30 minutes of exercise counteract sitting?

Like many of us, I follow the CDC guideline to exercise at least 30 minutes every day. I fill the time by walking my dog, following a workout on YouTube, or riding a stationary bike, and I always feel better when I’m done. However, I can’t help but wonder if that half hour is really offsetting all the time I spend sitting. My hips, back, and shoulders still ache at the end of a long day at work, and my hip flexors feel tight.

Curious, I dove into the research and found the short answer: 30 minutes of daily exercise doesn’t No cancel an entire day of sitting. Still, adding more movement to your daily routine can help counteract the effects of a sedentary lifestyle.

What the research says about sitting

We already know that sitting for a long time is not good for us. Doctors and physical therapists note that it causes poor circulation and can weaken the large muscles in the legs and buttocks. If you’re over 50, having weak leg muscles makes you more likely to fall and injure yourself, and sitting for long periods can shorten your hip flexors, which can lead to hip joint problems. In addition, poor posture can cause the spinal discs to compress more than they should and accelerate their degeneration. But how does a sedentary lifestyle affect longevity?

A large body of research confirms that sitting for long periods of time is detrimental to our long-term health. A recent study published in JAMA Cardiology which followed more than 100,000 participants found that sitting for eight or more hours per day was correlated with an increased risk of death and cardiovascular disease. By contrast, sitting for less than four hours a day and exercising every day significantly lowered those risks.

Another study published in British Journal of Sports Medicine in 2021 looked at the benefits of 30 minutes of daily exercise. After following more than 130,000 participants for about 14 years, researchers found that half an hour of exercise reduced the risk of death by up to 80% in people who spent less than seven hours sitting. However, 30 minutes of exercise had less of a positive effect on those who spent seven to 11 hours sitting, and had no positive effect on those who spent more than 11 hours sitting.

So if you spend less than seven hours a day sitting, 30 minutes of exercise may be enough. But the more hours you spend sedentary, the more physical activity you’ll need to counteract that time sitting.

how much exercise do you need

Here’s what the researchers recommend: If you have to work eight hours a day at a desk, you should get about an hour a day of moderate to vigorous physical activity. When you’re not working, don’t sit around watching TV or searching your phone! Instead, get two to four hours of light activity before and after work.

Here are some ways to increase your activity:

  • Invest in a treadmill and place it in the TV room, so you can walk while watching your favorite shows.
  • Take your pup out for a longer walk each morning or do some chores before work.
  • After completing a large project or task, take five to 10 minutes to stretch or squat. (Taking five minutes every hour to stretch is also helpful, but many people find this difficult to maintain because it takes away their focus.)
  • While you’re cooking dinner, use the cook time for a quick workout in the kitchen.
  • Invest in a standing desk. Standing is not as beneficial as walking and can cause foot pain without the right shoes, but it will help you work on your balance and posture.

On weekends spend more time in physical activity. Take longer walks and, if you can, increase the pace for about 20 minutes. If you’re not interested in walking, sign up for a dance, yoga, or water aerobics class on the weekends. The more you move your body, the greater your investment in your long-term health.

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