In today’s developed countries, people are spending more time than ever sitting, whether it’s in front of a computer, stuck in traffic, or unwinding in front of the TV. Unfortunately, this sedentary lifestyle is associated with various health issues such as obesity, heart disease, and certain types of cancers, all of which can contribute to premature death. However, a recent study has shed light on a potential solution for people over 50 who lead highly sedentary lives. It suggests that just 22 minutes of exercise per day can significantly lower the increased risk of premature death linked to prolonged sitting.

The Study

The study involved a combination of data from two studies in Norway, one study in Sweden, and another in the United States. The participants, totaling approximately 12,000 people aged 50 or older, wore wearable devices to track their activity and sedentary behavior throughout their daily routines. The researchers followed these individuals for a minimum of two years, with a median duration of 5.2 years, spanning from 2003 to 2020. Multiple lifestyle and health factors were taken into account, including education, alcohol intake, smoking status, and previous history of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. National death registries were used to link the collected data, and a total of 805 participants died during the follow-up period.

The researchers discovered that individuals who remained sedentary for more than 12 hours per day had the highest risk of death. In fact, this group faced a 38 percent higher risk compared to those who were sedentary for eight hours. However, this heightened risk was only observed in individuals who engaged in less than 22 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day. For those who exceeded this exercise threshold, the risk of premature death became similar to that of individuals who were sedentary for only eight hours. The duration of physical activity each day played a significant role in mortality risk reduction, irrespective of the total sedentary time.

For instance, the researchers found that an additional ten minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per day could lower mortality risk by up to 15 percent for individuals sedentary less than 10.5 hours per day. Even for those who were highly sedentary (10.5 hours or more), this additional ten minutes of exercise lowered the mortality risk by up to 35 percent. Unfortunately, the study did not analyze how changes in physical activity levels or sedentary behavior over time affected the risk of death. It is important to note that this study exclusively focused on participants aged 50 and above, thereby limiting the generalizability of the results to younger age groups. Additionally, variations in cultural and lifestyle factors between countries may have influenced the measurement and analysis of the study’s data.

Since this study was observational, it is crucial to approach the results with caution when drawing conclusions about cause and effect. However, the findings align with a growing body of evidence regarding the relationship between physical activity, sedentary behavior, and mortality. Previous research has also suggested that physical activity can help offset the health risks associated with prolonged sitting. The encouraging news is that even short bouts of exercise can have positive effects on health.

For example, the 22 minutes of exercise per day mentioned in the study did not have to be completed in one continuous session. It encompassed the total amount of physical activity individuals engaged in throughout the day, including incidental exercise such as climbing stairs as part of their daily routines. Other studies utilizing wearable devices have revealed that brief bursts of high-intensity activities like stair climbing or energetic outdoor tasks like mowing the lawn or cleaning windows can lower the risk of mortality, heart disease, and cancer. Furthermore, recent research has shown that moderate to vigorous physical activity bouts lasting three to five minutes offer similar benefits to longer bouts lasting over ten minutes, particularly in reducing the risk of stroke and heart attacks. Some studies have even indicated that being active solely on weekends can provide comparable health benefits as regular physical activity throughout the week.

Many individuals find themselves leading sedentary lifestyles due to professions that require prolonged sitting, such as desk jobs. However, incorporating short bursts of physical activity throughout the day can make a significant difference in improving health and longevity. Whether it’s taking a brisk walk during lunch breaks, opting for the stairs instead of the elevator, or engaging in a short workout routine at home, every minute of exercise counts. For people over 50, getting just 22 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day can significantly lower the heightened risk of premature death associated with a sedentary lifestyle. So, let’s take charge of our health and incorporate more movement into our lives.


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