Sat at a desk all day? Get active for an hour, say experts

If you’re inspired to get more active by this summer’s sporting events – which are about to start in Rio – there’s another good reason to go for a run or a brisk walk during your lunchtime.

Much has been written in recent years about the health risk of sitting for long periods on a regular basis. Physical inactivity has been linked with an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and some cancers, and costs the world economy billions in health care costs and lost productivity.

However, a report published in The Lancet medical journal suggests doing at least one hour of physical activity each day – such as brisk walking or cycling – can offset the risk of having a sedentary job where you sit for eight hours a day.

More active, less risk

More than a million people took part in 16 studies to find out how many hours of exercise you need a day to eliminate the risk to your health associated with sitting for long periods. Some were only active for less than five minutes a day, with the most active volunteers exercising for 60-75 minutes daily.

Interestingly, those who sat for eight hours a day but were physically active had a much lower risk of death compared to the volunteers who sat for fewer hours but weren’t physically active. This, the researchers claim, suggests being active is particularly important, no matter how many hours you spend each day sitting.

“For many people who commute to work and have office-based jobs, there is no way to escape sitting for prolonged periods of time,” says Professor Ulf Ekelund of the University of Cambridge, the report’s lead author.

“For these people in particular, we cannot stress enough the importance of getting exercise, 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.”

TV watching

The report also found that watching TV for more than three hours a day may be worse for your health than sitting at a desk – but that could be because it’s associated with other unhealthy habits, such as snacking. The good news is, for those who are very active, the health risks are far lower.

So if you want to relax in front of the box this evening, try to get plenty of exercise beforehand.

Are you getting enough exercise? Current guidelines for physical activity are 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week. However, the recommendations in this study are far higher. If you want to increase the amount of exercise you do, check with your GP first, especially if you have a medical condition, you’re not particularly fit or you’re new to exercise.
Your pharmacist can also help if your new exercise regime leaves you with sore muscles by recommending products that can provide relief.
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