If “sitting is the new smoking,” you can make it even worse by parking your body for more than 30 minutes at a time.
People who experience such long bouts of uninterrupted sitting and who stay sedentary for much of their waking time — 12.5 hours or more a day — have the highest risk of death from any cause, a new study finds.
But there’s one thing you can do to reduce the harm: Move every 30 minutes for at least one minute, said lead author Keith Diaz, an associate research scientist at Columbia University Medical Center.
“People need to be mindful and try to take a break every half hour if they can,” Diaz told TODAY. “When our bodies are not moving, they just stop working like they’re supposed to.”
The findings, published this week in the Annals of Internal Medicine, come after Diaz and his team analyzed data from almost 8,000 people who took part in the Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke (REGARDS) study.
The participants, who were all 45 or older, wore a device that measured how much they moved during the day. Overall, it found they spent 77 percent of their waking hours sitting or being otherwise inactive — the equivalent to being sedentary more than 12 hours out of a 16-hour waking day. It seems astonishing, but Diaz wasn’t surprised.
“Look, U.S. adults are just extremely sedentary,” he said. “Particularly… middle- and older-aged adults. We know as we age, we become more and more sedentary.”
The sheer amount of sitting around was associated with a higher risk of death, but so was the pattern of inactivity: Staying still for an hour or 90 minutes at a time made things worse, the researchers note. If you spend your day like that, it doesn’t matter whether you squeeze in a workout in the morning or at night, Diaz said.
“You need to still be mindful about moving throughout your day and not just think that ‘Because I exercised today, I’m done,’ he noted. “Sitting in these long bouts, regardless of whether you exercised or not, still increases your risk of death.”
If you have to sit, being sedentary in shorter bouts — less than 30 minutes — was “the least harmful pattern,” the researchers say.
Your best bet: Movement breaks
• You may want to set your phone or favorite fitness gadget to beep every 30 minutes to remind you that it’s time to move: “It’s easy to forget how much you’ve been sitting when you just become engrossed in an activity,” Diaz noted. Apple CEO Tim Cook once said he has such alerts set up to make sure he takes a break.
• Engage in any movement that will get your heart pumping for at least a minute. Diaz suggested walking because it’s an easy, simple activity to do in most any setting. You can also opt of jumping jacks, calisthenics at your desk or whatever works for you. “The longer, the better, and the more intense you can take your break, the better,” he said.
• Get up: Standing desks are popular, but there’s not enough evidence to suggest standing is any better of an alternative than sitting, Diaz noted. Fidgeting may be helpful, but it’s not entirely clear how much at this point, he added, so his best recommendation is to just take a stroll.