Does Exercise Cancel Out the Effects of Sitting?

Feb 28, 2014
Outside Magazine

Eventhough you exercise, you still need to move at work to counterbalance the negatives effects sitting all day.    Photo: Fuse/Getty Images


Unfortunately for cubicle club members everywhere, science says no.

Despite the American Heart Association's recommendation that adults get 30 minutes of moderate exercise five days a week, or 25 minutes of vigorous exercise three days a week, new research shows that your health depends on movement, not just how long and hard you workout.

While the study was confined to older adults, it found that an added hour of sedentary behavior increased a particpant's risk of being unable to perform basic daily tasks (such as getting in and out of bed) by 46 percent, even if he met weekly exercise guidlines.

"Sedentary behavior is to exercise as a Big Mac is to a salad," says Dan Heil, Ph.D. and professor of exercise physiology at Montana State University. "One healthy behavior doesn't cancel out the effects of an unhealthy behavior."

Simply put, even if you're a serious athlete, sitting doesn't discriminate. But sitting doesn't have to be so bad. Research by obesity specialist at the Mayo Clinic (and notably, inventor of the treadmill desk), Dr. James Levine, shows that the energy expended during small movements like getting up to get a glass of water, or fidgeting can counteract the effects of sitting.

The bottom line: Sitting is more harmful the longer you do it, regardless of your fitness level. Aim to walk or stretch at least once an hour, even if it's simply standing to do office work. And for the bold among you, there's always the treadmill desk. 

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