Millions of us sit at our desks all day, typing away. Not because we wouldn’t rather be hiking next to a babbling stream, or strolling on a sunlit beach, but because… well, we have to make a living. It is what it is. Then we read alarming headlines such as, “Sitting Is the New Smoking,” and “The Ways Your Sedentary Life Is Shortening Your Life.” Yikes.
That’s why I was heartened to see a new study outfrom the University of Cambridge that says an hour of brisk exercise can counterbalance the health risks of a day of prolonged sitting. In research published in The Lancet, the Cambridge researchers analyzed 16 studies, looking at data from a million men and women (the numbers came mainly from participants aged 45 and older living in the U.S., western Europe and Australia). As they analyzed the risk of death, researchers found that 60 to 75 minutes of moderate intensity workouts per day were enough to stave off the increased risks associated with sitting on our tushes for eight hours a day. Even better for us mortals: “Moderate exercise” was here defined as walking 3.5 miles an hour or cycling at 10 miles an hour.
“There has been a lot of concern about the health risks associated with today’s more sedentary lifestyles,” wrote the study’s Ulf Ekelund, a professor from the Medical Research Council Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge. “Our message is a positive one: it is possible to reduce—or even eliminate—these risks if we are active enough, even without having to take up sports or go to the gym.”
“We cannot stress enough the importance of getting exercise,” writes Ekelund, “whether it’s getting out for a walk at lunchtime, going for a run in the morning or cycling to work. An hour of physical activity per day is the ideal, but if this is unmanageable, then at least doing some exercise each day can help reduce the risk.”
Ekelund acknowledges that for many of us, there is no way to escape sitting for a long amount of time. Just move whenever you possibly can, and ignore those headlines about your desk chair being deadly.
Kathryn Drury Wagner is a writer and editor based in Los Angeles. Her latest book is Hawaii’s Strangest, Ickiest, Wildest Book Ever!, a science and natural history “gross out” for young readers.