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How Much Exercise Will Offset 10 or More Hours of Sitting?

Too much sitting, or as much as 10 hours a day of not moving around, can increase your risk of chronic disease, including high cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar — all risk factors linked to the No. 1 cause of death in the United States: heart disease.

A recent analysis of nine previous studies has concluded that 30 to 40 minutes per day of being active is a good remedy for sitting for 10 hours or more daily. The studies involved a total of 44,370 people in four different countries who were wearing some form of a fitness tracker.

Sedentary living is more of an issue during the COVID-19 pandemic that has forced many adults to work from home. The analysis, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine [1], found the risk of death among those with a more sedentary lifestyle increased as their physical activity of “moderate-to-vigorous intensity” decreased.

“In active individuals doing about 30-40 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity, the association between high sedentary time and risk of death is not significantly different from those with low amounts of sedentary time,” the researchers wrote.

The research findings based on fitness trackers closely align with new World Health Organization guidelines, which recommend 150-300 minutes of moderate intensity, or 75-150 minutes of vigorous intensity physical activity, every week to counter sedentary behavior. The American Heart Association (AHA) also recommends at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic activity, or a combination of both.

Prime examples of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise are brisk walking at a pace of at least 2.5 miles per hour, or cycling  slower than 10 miles per hour, says the AHA.

“Our credo is ‘never slow down,’ even for people in their 70s and 80s,” said Mark Caruso, M.D. [2], an internal medicine physician with Baptist Health Primary Care. “We are a huge proponent of exercise for people of all ages. As you get older, cross training (aerobics and weights) benefits bone health and helps prevent osteoporosis.”

In addition to aerobic activities, the AHA also recommends moderate- to high-intensity muscle-strengthening activity (such as resistance or weights) on at least 2 days per week.

Getting your check-up and consulting with your family physician are the first steps toward determining how much exercise you truly need. Before making a recommendation about exercise, your doctor will consider several factors, including your weight, blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels, along with any other underlying condition.

Dr. Caruso goes beyond the AHA guidelines of five days a week for patients with low HDL (the good cholesterol). HDL cholesterol levels less than 40 mg/dL are considered low.

“As the cardio goes, so goes the HDL,” Dr. Caruso said. “I have several people who I have asked to exercise six or seven days a week to nudge that cholesterol up to 40 mg/dL.”

Here’s an overview of recommended physical activity for adults from the American Heart Association [3]: