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Desk-Bound? 150 Minutes of Exercise Could Help Keep You Healthy

You’ve probably heard that sitting all day isn’t the best thing for your health. Yet, if you’re one of the many who work in an office, sitting all day is probably a fact of life. While it’s quite a dilemma, new research may throw you a life raft: Researchers have found that getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous exercise every week could mitigate the effects of being mostly sedentary. The study was published in the journal BMC Public Health and looked at data from 2,131 adults, age 18 or older, who participated in the 2008 Health Survey for England. For one week, participants wore a device during waking hours, which measured their physical activity time and their sedentary time. Based on this data, researchers grouped the participants into one of four groups: “Busy Bees” (physically active and low sedentary), “Sedentary Exercisers” (physically active and high sedentary), “Light Movers” (physically inactive and low sedentary), and “Couch Potatoes” (physically inactive and high sedentary). Participants who got at least 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per week were considered physically active. Researchers used the participant’s activity and sedentary data to calculate and define how sedentary the participants were in relation to each other. Finally, researchers measured for several health markers: body mass index (BMI), waist circumference, hemoglobin A1c (a marker of blood sugar control), and HDL (“good”) and total cholesterol levels, finding that:

  • Compared with the “Couch Potatoes,” the “Busy Bees” and the “Sedentary Exercisers” had more favorable health markers.
  • Specifically, average BMI in the "Busy Bees" and "Sedentary Exercisers" were 1.67 kg/m2 and 1.64 kg/m2 lower, respectively, than in the "Couch Potatoes." In addition, their hemoglobin A1c percentages were 0.12 and 0.11 lower, respectively, and their HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels were 0.09 mmol/L and 0.07 mmol/L higher, respectively.

This evidence suggests that people who are physically active may have better health, even if they have a lot of sedentary time. This research is somewhat contradictory to previous research that found that sitting throughout the day increases your risk of death from any cause, regardless of how much physical activity you get. So, more research is needed to uncover the nuances of this relationship. However, at this point it's clear that, while it’s not great to be sedentary, if you have to be, get some exercise—even if it’s just exercising at your desk, it will help you stay healthy!

Source: BMC Public Health

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