We all know that sitting all day every day is bad for us. Studies link sedentary lifestyles with a host of ailments ranging from high blood pressure and diabetes to cancer to heart disease. But how much exercise do you really need to live a longer life? It could be less than you think.
How Much Exercise Do You Really Need?
Sitting for most of the day isn't uncommon for Americans. Many people have desk jobs that require sitting in front of a screen, often for hours at a time. Add pandemic-related restrictions and shorter, colder days to the mix, and most of us are sitting more than ever before.
The good news: A new study suggests that you could reduce the health hit of sedentary living by exercising for only 11 minutes a day. That’s a huge reduction from the 60 to 75 minutes of moderate daily exercise suggested by previous studies. Why the discrepancy? Earlier research relied on participants’ memory of how much they moved and how much they sat still. The new study used activity monitors to more accurately assess exercise levels.
More Efficient Exercise
Americans are famous for trying to accomplish things as quickly as possible with the least effort. For example, in the 1980s, 8-minute workout videos were all the rage. But there are plenty of ways to make your exercise regimen more efficient. Just keep these rules in mind:
- More is better. While research suggests that you can add years to your life by exercising for 11 to 15 minutes daily, getting more exercise — ideally 30 to 40 minutes daily — is better for your health and well-being. Remember, this new study is just one study. We'll need a larger body of research to definitively say how much exercise you need each day.
- Aim for variety. No matter how much time you devote to exercise, it's important to mix things up with different types of workouts. So instead of sticking to your daily 2-mile run, be sure to include strength training, stretching and other types of exercise. Aim for two days of strength training each week and be sure to work different muscle groups during each session.
- Get creative. Carving out 30-minute blocks of time for exercise can be a challenge — unless you get creative with time management. If you're working from home, take breaks during the day. You might even use the Pomodoro method, which intersperses 25 minutes of focus time with 5-minute exercise breaks. That way, exercise is already built into your workday.
Exercise For Longevity
There's no doubt that exercise is good for both body and mind. Regular exercise helps stave off chronic diseases and may also help you feel more energized and happier. There's even evidence to suggest that exercise increases work productivity.
Take your exercise outdoors and you'll get some additional perks. Sometimes just stepping away from the screen and into the sunshine can help get your blood flowing and change your frame of mind. Plus, if it's sunny outside, you'll get mood-lifting vitamin D.
While it's not clear how much physical activity you need each day to counteract the effects of sitting in front of a screen for hours at a time, we do know that some exercise is better than none, even just 11 minutes. Not sure how to get started? Consider meeting with an athletic trainer. A professional can help you develop a program that not only helps you meet your goals, but also fits your busy lifestyle.
Nick Parkinson, M.Ed., AT, ATC, TSAC-F Supervisor of Athletic Training with Henry Ford Sports Medicine, also leads Sports Performance training at the William Clay Ford Center for Athletic Medicine. He is a regular contributor to Henry Ford LiveWell. Learn more about Nick.