Short Bursts of Exercise Can Offset Dangers of Sitting

It’s well known that extended periods of sitting carry serious health risks, but a new study indicates that short bursts of walking may be enough to offset those problems.

Researchers from the University of Utah School of Medicine published their findings in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology (CJASN).

Sitting for extended periods of time each day has been linked to risk of early death as well as heart disease and diabetes.

Numerous studies have shown that sitting for extended periods of time each day leads to increased risk for early death, as well as heart disease, diabetes and other health conditions.

Because 80 percent of Americans don’t meet the recommended 2.5 hours of exercise every week, the researchers set out to see if a more achievable goal might be beneficial.

They used observational data from National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) to examine whether longer durations of low intensity activities (e.g. standing), and light intensity activities (e.g. casual walking, light gardening, cleaning) extends the life span of people who are sedentary for more than half of their waking hours.

According to a news release from the university, the researchers found that there was no benefit from engaging in low intensity activities for two minutes each hour. But doing light intensity activities for two minutes each hour was linked with a 33 percent lower risk of dying.

“It was fascinating to see the results because the current national focus is on moderate or vigorous activity. To see that light activity had an association with lower mortality is intriguing,” said lead author Srinivasan Beddhu, M.D., professor of internal medicine.

Beddhu explains that while it’s obvious that it takes energy to exercise, strolling and other light activities use energy, too. Even short walks add up to a lot when repeated many times over the course of a week.

“Based on these results we would recommend adding two minutes of walking each hour in combination with normal activities, which should include 2.5 hours of moderate exercise each week,” says Beddhu. Moderate exercise strengthens the heart, muscles, and bones, and confers health benefits that low and light intensity activities can’t.

“Exercise is great, but the reality is that the practical amount of vigorous exercise that can be achieved is limited. Our study suggests that even small changes can have a big impact,” said senior author Tom Greene, Ph.D., director of the Study Design and Biostatistics Center at the Center for Clinical and Translational Science.

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