Today we explore the idea that exercise may have the capacity to eliminate the negative effects of prolonged sitting…

It is common knowledge that jobs involving lots of sitting are not good for us. It can contribute to back pain, neck pain, poor digestion and over time can affect our concentration levels. 

We are always looking for ways to combat these negative effects on our body. This may be a lunchtime walk or sweating it out in a gym class. But how do we know if we are doing enough?

Today we investigate the crucial question: Is there an optimal level of exercise which can eliminate the negative effects of 8+ hours of sitting? 

Let’s go…

A very large study was conducted by Ekelund et al in 2016 which looked at the relationship between people’s exercise and sitting habits and the risk this had on their likelihood of developing a range of co-morbidities such as cardiovascular disease. Data from 1, 005, 791 individuals was used.

Individuals were split into four categories, dependent upon their exercise levels per day:

  • Low level: 5 minutes per day
  • Moderate: 25-35 minutes per day
  • Mod-High: 50-60 minutes per day
  • High: 60-75 minutes per day

They then ranked people in order of how much sitting they do per day:

  • Low: 0-4 hours per day
  • Moderate: 4-6 hours per day
  • Mod-High: 6-8 hours per day
  • High: 8+ hours per day
They also looked at the time people spent watching TV:
  • Low level: 0-4 hours per day
  • Moderate: 4-6 hours per day
  • Mod-High: 6-8 hours per day
  • High: 8+ hours per day

Where do you sit in these categories?!

 The results were very interesting…

The relationship between exercise and sitting time

  • Mortality rates were 12-59% higher in those engaging in less than 35 minutes of physical activity per day, even when sitting time was the lowest. 
  • The most active group (60+ minutes) did not show any negative effects of prolonged sitting, even if they reached the 8+ hours level in one day.
  • They also had a significantly lower risk of mortality than the least active group who also sat the least!

This is suggesting that a minimum of ONE HOUR of exercise per day can eliminate the effects of EIGHT HOURS of sitting. Impressive. 

  • The combination of sitting for over 8 hours and exercising less than 5 minutes per day increased mortality risk by 58%
  • This was found to be the same as obesity and smoking!


The relationship between exercise and TV watching

  • Those who watched over 5 hours of TV per day were at an overall increased risk of health problems. However, those who were also the least active saw this risk increase by 93%.
  • When it came to TV watching, it seemed even the most active group were at risk – over 5 hours per day also increased their mortality risk. This suggested that even high levels of exercise cannot undo the negative effects of watching too much TV!

But why then, is TV watching more detrimental to our health than sitting at work?

  • TV watching is usually done in the evening. This sedentary behaviour after an evening meal can mean poor glucose and lipid metabolism, which can be a risk factor for some diseases such as type II diabetes.
  • We are less likely to get up and move around when watching TV comfortable on the sofa. This means we are likely to spend longer in the same spot, compared to at our desks when it is common to be moving around.
  • TV watching is often associated with snacking, which can lead to weight gain and excess sugar consumption.
  • TV advertising can influence our food choices,  leading some to make poor choices.

Take home message

A high level of moderate activity (60 minutes per day) appears to eliminate the increased risk of disease associated with 8+ hours of sitting.

This high level of activity can reduce but not eliminate effects of watching too much TV.

The current government guidelines suggest;

  • 150 minutes of moderate exercise 3 times weekly
  • 2 strength training sessions weekly
  • This is a minimum guideline and we should all be striving for more. 
For desk based workers, this is particularly important. 150 minutes per week equates to only just over 20 minutes a day. If you sit for over 8 hours, it is important that you aim for higher. 

This can be spread across the day i.e. walks before/during/after work where you try to maintain a moderate pace (mildly breathless), in addition to more vigorous exercise i.e. a gym session, a few times a week.

If you want more guidance/ideas on what you can do to help yourself or you need to recover from an injury before embarking on an exercise routine – get in contact with us today. It is never too late to start!

Thanks for reading.

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