The current recommended levels of physical activity to reduce the risk of early death by up to 30% is 150 minutes of moderate-intensity, 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity, or a combination of the two per week. Just under a third of people globally do not achieve this minimum standard and it is higher in richer countries. But a new study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine has found that these recommendations for activity levels are not enough to avoid chronic illnesses for those that spend most of their day sitting down.
The study looked at the effects of various daily amounts of different intensities of exercise, lack of exercise, and sleep on early death using six previous studies covering over 130,000 adults in the UK, US, and Sweeden. The paper suggests that most of us in the UK and other wealthy countries spend up to twelve hours a day sitting and so require higher levels of movement to counteract the negative effects of a sedentary life than those that sid for just six to seven hours used to model the original recommendations. They suggest a minimum of three minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise or twelve minutes of light physical activity for every hour spent seated each day.
For a person who sits twelve hours per day, the recommendations would mean 36 minutes of vigorous or 144 minutes of light activity each day. If we just followed this for five days per week that is 180 minutes of vigorous exercise, 2.4 times the amount previously suggested for the same level of risk reduction. If you are in bed for eight hours and working for eight to nine hours and then sitting in front of the TV in the evening it is likely that twelve hours seated is realistic and possibly low for some people.
In addition to increased weekly exercise time to offset all the sitting, the paper also suggests using a variety of movements each week to accumulate the required vigorous or light activity. This means that if a person had previously completed three to four runs per week to get in the minimum recommended activity, then adding some strength training, a swim session, and a bike ride could bring better health benefits than more running when using the new benchmarks. For the health benefits, the important thing is to get your heart rate up each day and use a variety of movements across the week, so be creative and use what you have.
Above the suggestion that people should create a daily exercise habit, The study also suggested that moving regularly between exercise and getting good amounts of daily also presented benefits. The UK National Health Service has some good suggestions for exercise and the Canadian government has already adopted a daily approach to movement.
On this blog, there are recommendations of training goals for running starting at the beginner level, suggestions for strength and conditioning using kettlebells, and recommendations for four-minute movement breaks that can be used throughout the day.