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30 minutes of daily exercise 'not enough' for those who spend days sitting down

By Tom Walker    13 Jul 2021
The benefits of 30 minutes of exercise depends entirely on how you spend the rest of the day / Shutterstock/Studio Romantic

A new study claims that being physically active for 30 minutes a day, five days a week, is not enough for those who spend the rest of their time sedentary.

Research by Columbia University and an international team of researchers looked at data from six studies that included more than 130,000 adults in the UK, US and Sweden.

The authors used a technique called compositional analysis to determine how different combinations of activities – from moderate-to-vigorous exercise (activities that increase heart rate) and light physical activity (such as casual walking) to sedentary behaviour – affect mortality.

It found that the benefits of 30 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous exercise depends entirely on how you spend the rest of the day.

Although the current recommendation of 30 minutes per day of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity reduced the odds of an earlier death by up to 80 per cent for some – those who sat for less than seven hours a day – it did not reduce mortality risk for individuals who were very sedentary (over 11 to 12 hours per day).

Interestingly, the researchers identified multiple ways to achieve the same health benefits from exercise.

For example, people who spent just a few minutes engaging in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity lowered their risk of early death by 30 per cent – as long as they also spent six hours engaging in light physical activity.

“For decades, we’ve been telling people that the way to stay healthy is to get at least 30 minutes of exercise five days a week,” says Keith Diaz, PhD, assistant professor of behavioural medicine and director of the exercise testing laboratory at the Center for Behavioral Cardiovascular Health at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons.

“But even if you’re one of the few adults who can stick to this advice, 30 minutes represents just 2 per cent of your entire day.

“Is it really possible that our activity habits for just 2 per cent of the day is all that matters when it comes to health?.

"It is not as simple as checking off that ‘exercise’ box on your to-do list.

"A healthy movement profile requires more than 30 minutes of daily exercise. Moving around and not remaining sedentary all day also matters.”

Sebastien Chastin, PhD, professor of health behaviour dynamics at Glasgow Caledonian University in Scotland and lead author of the study, added: "Getting 30 minutes of physical activity per day, or 150 minutes per week, is what’s currently recommended, but you still have the potential to undo all that good work if you sit too long."

The research was published was in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. To read the full study, click here.

Columbia University  30 minutes a day  Keith Diaz 
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