If you have a desk job, there’s a chance that the pandemic has made your life even more sedentary than usual: Your commute to work might now involve rolling over in bed and opening your laptop. (Ask me how I know.) But a new study suggests that even relatively tiny amounts of exercise during the day can help offset some of the negative health impacts of sitting for hours.
“A lot of the early research and news headlines from three or four years ago used to say things like ‘sitting is the new smoking’ even if you exercise, and there was this notion that exercise doesn’t matter if you sit all day,” says Keith Diaz, an assistant professor of behavioral medicine at Columbia University and one of the coauthors of the study. “What I think this study shows is that they both matter. The harm that comes from sedentary behavior can be altered by how much [moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity] that you do, and also vice versa: how much benefit you get from exercise depends on how much sitting time you do.”
The study, a meta-analysis of nine other studies tracking nearly 45,000 people, found that those who were most sedentary risked dying prematurely. But even when people sat as much as 8.5 hours a day, getting just 11 minutes of moderate exercise significantly cut that risk. Thirty to 40 minutes of exercise was even more helpful.