Does exercise cancel out the negative effects of sitting all day?

If your job requires you to sit at a desk all day you’ll be pleased with the findings of new research which shows the negative health effects of prolonged sitting can be offset with a daily 1 hour walk.

Researchers combined the findings of 16 studies, involving more than 1 million people from the US, Europe and Australia.  There is now a significant amount of research showing an association between sedentary time and mortality, and the researchers wanted to work out how much exercise would be needed to eliminate this association.

The participants were divided into four groups based on physical activity levels (ranging from less than 5 minutes a day to 60-75 minutes per day), sitting time and television viewing time.

Not surprisingly, those who sat the most and did the least exercise had the highest risk of death.  In fact sitting for at least 8 hours per day and not exercising resulted in a 60% higher risk of death compared to those who sat for less than 4 hours per day and were most active.

But in those who were most active, there was no association between sitting time and death suggesting that you may be able to negate the effects of sitting by incorporating an hour of daily exercise.

However those who sat less (under 4 hours) but had the lowest activity levels had a 27% increased risk of death, highlighting the importance of regular exercise, independent of sitting time.

The researchers also looked separately at television watching. In those who watched 5 or more hours per day, no amount of exercise reduced the increase risk of death associated with television watching, while in those who watched 3 hours or more, only the highest levels of activity reduced the risk.

 Ekelund et al. Does physical activity attenuate, or even eliminate, the detrimental association of sitting time with mortality? A harmonised meta-analysis of data from more than 1 million men and women. Lancet. 2016 Jul 27. [Epub ahead of print]

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