Calling all desk chair inhabitants—aka everyone I know and many, many more. If sitting all day stresses you out as it does me, then today is going to change your life (or at least empower you to do something about it). We’ve heard numerous times that sitting can wreak havoc on our health—sitting is the new smoking, they say—but when your job involves sitting behind a desk in front of a screen, what are you supposed to do?
For years the science and fitness worlds have gone back and forth on whether or not working out can actually mitigate the negative effects of sitting, and we’re happy to announce that, according to new research, it can.
Typically, the amount of time spent sitting is associated with an increased risk of death in adults who aren’t active. Yea I know, scary. Fortunately, a new study from the American College of Cardiology found that increasing your physical activity can potentially eliminate that association. In other words, if you increase the amount of time you spend being active, you can effectively offset the risk caused by too much sitting—and it’ll offset it more than if you just decide to sit less.
“Our results support continued efforts to promote physical activity in those segments of the population that sit a lot for whatever reason,” said Emmanuel Stamatakis, Ph.D., lead author of the paper. “In the absence of some physical activity, merely reducing sitting times may be insufficient for better health.”
The study included 149,077 Australian men and women aged 45 years and older, and the results showed that if you’re a “high sitter,” meaning you sit for more than six hours, increasing your physical activity will have a bigger, positive impact on your health and risk of death than if you’re a low sitter. If you’re a low sitter, your best bet for reducing your risk of death is to replace your sitting with standing. But for high sitters, making the switch to standing isn’t enough.
“A possible explanation for this is that among the most sedentary participants, the standing may not be sufficient for reducing health risks,” Stamatakis said. “Instead, substituting sitting for brisk walking may be a better option that is feasible by a majority of adults.”
Unsurprisingly, vigorous physical activity proved most effective in offsetting the impact of sitting, but study authors acknowledge that this isn’t feasible for all adults. So instead, high sitters focus on getting as much physical activity as their schedules allow, at the highest intensity they can manage.
This study is particularly exciting because, as physical activity epidemiologist and investigator at the National Cancer Institute Charles E. Matthews notes, these findings confirm that there are a variety of ways to lower the risk of death associated with sitting too much and getting too little physical activity. And it’s just one more reason to get moving!
“Given that sedentary behavior appears to be vast out-competing more healthy physical activity behaviors during our discretionary time, it is more important than ever to attend to our daily physical activity and sitting time to try to optimize both behaviors for better health,” says Matthews.