Work Out Hard When You Can, Hit the 11-Minute Threshold When You Can’t

A bunch of people on treadmills at the gym

It’s well recognized that there are a number of benefits of daily exercise and activity. In fact, getting regular exercise has been shown to increase longevity and to reduce a number of chronic illnesses. Unfortunately, finding the time and energy to work this into your day can be challenging. In addition, research has consistently shown that there are risks associated sitting too much of the day. Given that many of us are spending more time working on our home desks and watching TV, this is concerning. This is why health experts strongly encourage us to get moving!

While the risks associated with sitting can be offset by adequate exercise, it’s been unclear how much activity is needed. Guidelines by health organizations previously suggested that adults need at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous activity a week. But other studies suggest this may not be enough for those who sit an excessive amount of time each day. A new study, however, has shed some additional light on this situation. As a result, we now have a better idea just how much exercise can help us avoid the negative effects of sitting.

New Insights About the Benefits of Daily Exercise

A recent study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine explored the benefits of daily exercise and activity on longevity. Roughly 44,000 men and women wore accelerometers to measure just how much they moved, exercises, and sat each day. The participants were studied anywhere from 4 to 14 years, and during that time, about 8 percent died. The researchers controlled the study for things like smoking, obesity, and other factors that might affect longevity. Thus, in essence, they tried to determine the risks associated with sitting and sedentary lifestyles compared to active ones.

Someone with brand new sneakers on a treadmill
The benefits of exercise are many, but to combat the effects of sitting most of the day, you just need 11 minutes of working out.

Their results revealed some pretty interesting findings in terms of the benefits of daily exercise. For one, the average time that participants sat each day was between 8.5 and 10.5 hours. Notably, the risks associated with sitting this long were believed to be substantial. In contrast, the average daily level of moderate exercise ranged from 8 to 35 minutes. Not surprisingly, the researchers found that increased sitting times were linked to a higher risk of early death. But they also found that 35 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous exercise daily eliminated these risks. And even those who briskly walked 11 minutes per day had improved health.

Why Is Sitting So Bad for Us?

Over the last several decades, we tend to sit much more frequently than ever before. There are several reasons for this. For one, television viewing ushered in several generations of couch potatoes as far back as the middle of last century. Today, computer work further contributes to these trends. While the risks associated with sitting may not be apparent at first, this does promote a sedentary lifestyle. It also directly affects our bodies in a variety of ways. As a result, a number of health problems can arise when we spend too much time sitting.

The risks associated with sitting include those involving our heart health, our spine health, our weight, and our vascular system. Excessive sitting has been linked to cardiovascular disease in multiple studies. Likewise, the immobility associated with sitting can cause leg swelling and increase the risk for blood clots. A seated position is often associated with poor posture, and this can cause spine and back issues. It may also lead to weight gain, which is linked to obesity and diabetes. In an effort to avoid these problems, researchers have long touted the benefits of daily exercise. Now, they have more precise data to back it up.

What Exactly is Moderate-to-Vigorous Exercise?

Health guidelines have been fairly consistent in defining the level of activity needed to enjoy the benefits of daily exercise. Most report between 150 and 300 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous activity is needed per week. But many people are unclear what this means. By definition, moderate exercise gets your heart rate pumping to about 50-60 percent of its max. Vigorous activity gets it up to about 70-80 percent. But few of us are constantly measuring our heart rate to know our level of activity. Fortunately, there are a couple of tricks to help us.

The CDC recommends using the Talk Test to guide us in determine our level of exercise effort. For moderate activity, you will still be able to talk but not sing. For vigorous activity, you’ll only be able to get out a couple of words before needing to breathe. Understanding this, common moderate level activities include things like brisk walking, water aerobics, easy bicycling, and tennis. Vigorous exercise includes things like jogging, jumping robe, uphill hiking, and swimming. According to the study, 35 minutes of these activities will allow you to offset the risks associated with sitting too much.

Realizing the Benefits of Daily Exercise

One of the ways to realize the benefits of daily exercise is to develop a weekly exercise plan. Planning always helps us achieve our bolder goals in life. But even when we create the perfect plan, sometimes our efforts fall short. The current research shows us that even a small amount of daily exercise can offset the risks associated with sitting excessively. Therefore, it’s clear every little bit of activity helps. Even if you can’t make it to the gym, incorporating more activity into your routine offers an alternative strategy.

You may consider several ways to increase your level of daily exercise. Choose to take the stairs instead of an elevator. Walk the dog more often. Set your alarm on the hour to get out of your chair. And if feasible, walk to stores, restaurants, and other destinations instead of driving. Given that we sit about 9 hours a day on average, squeezing in a few minutes of exercise each day shouldn’t be so tough. The benefits of daily exercise are clear as are the amount needed to reduce the risks associated with sitting. Now, it’s up to us to use that information to our advantage.


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