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How much exercise will counter the effects of sitting all day?

It’s well known that sitting for long periods is harmful to your health, particularly your cardiovascular health. But offsetting the harmful effects of a sedentary lifestyle may be easier than you think.

Sitting for long periods every day, whether in an office or at home, can lead to major health complications. Low levels of physical activity are a major risk factor for many chronic conditions, including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis.

Additionally, regular exercise can improve your mental and musculoskeletal health, help you lose weight and lower your blood pressure and cholesterol – all risk factors for serious health conditions.

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), 2.5 per cent of the total disease burden nationally was primarily due to physical inactivity. That contributes around 10 to 20 per cent of the individual disease burden for diabetes, bowel cancer, uterine cancer, dementia, breast cancer, coronary heart disease and stroke.

Read: High-intensity exercise can cut cancer spread: study

We all know the importance of exercise, but how much exercise do you actually need to do to counter the harmful effects of inactivity? If the results of a study from Columbia University are anything to go by, not as much as you’d think.

A team of researchers led by associate professor of behavioural medicine Dr Keith Diaz set out to determine the least amount of exercise someone can do to offset the health effects of inactivity.

The study tested five exercise options: one minute of walking after every 30 minutes of sitting, one minute after 60 minutes; five minutes every 30 minutes; five minutes every 60 minutes, and no walking.

All study participants were aged in their 40s, 50s and 60s and most did not have diabetes or high blood pressure.

Read: Honey is the healthiest sweetener and may be good for your heart

The results showed that walking for just five minutes after every 30 minutes of inactivity was most effective for reversing the negative effects.

That was the only amount that significantly lowered both blood sugar and blood pressure significantly.

In addition, that walking regimen had a dramatic effect on how participants responded to eating large meals, reducing blood sugar spikes by 58 per cent compared with sitting all day.

“If we hadn’t compared multiple options and varied the frequency and duration of the exercise, we would have only been able to provide people with our best guesses of the optimal routine,” Dr Diaz says.

Read: Heart attack warning signs that could save your life

Even walking for one minute every half-hour produced some positive effects. Interestingly, walking once per hour – whether for one or five minutes – provided no benefit at all, showing it may be the frequency of activity, rather than the length of time spent doing it, that is key.

“What we know now is that for optimal health, you need to move regularly at work, in addition to a daily exercise routine,” says Dr Diaz.

“While that may sound impractical, our findings show that even small amounts of walking spread through the workday can significantly lower your risk of heart disease and other chronic illnesses.”

How often do you sit for more than 30 minutes at a time? Do you think you might change it up now? Let us know in the comments section below.

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