Exercise alone does not offset sedentary lifestyle


Many meet the recommended guidelines of 150 minutes of physical activity per week.

However, most modern day jobs such as engineering, marketing, call centre, retail or other office based work involve long periods of sitting — sometimes up to 95% of the day for jobs such as programming.

In those cases, research increasingly show that even if you achieve the recommended amount of weekly exercise, you still cannot reverse the negative effects of 8+ hours per day sitting down.

Add television watching, video games, reading on tablets, sitting while commuting, eating prepackaged foods instead of cooking and the long-term health picture is bleak.

Specifically, with 150mn of weekly moderate exercise, with an otherwise sedentary job and lifestyle, your mortality rate is still increased by +35% (sources). Long periods of sitting increase the risk of heart disease by 50%. Sitting life escalates chronic diseases such as obesity, cardiovascular disease or type 2 diabetes. Simply, the human body is not designed to sit 8 hours per day nor is it designed for office work.

When looking at your lifestyle, it is then important to recognize the 2 factors independently. Physical activity is the time you spend exercising, and sedentary lifestyle is how you characterize the majority of your time outside physical activity.

Step one is to optimize physical activity. Are you doing enough physical activity daily? weekly? Are you enjoying it or is it more of a chore? Are activities diverse and enjoyable?

10,000 daily steps or 150mn of weekly moderate exercise is the minimum recommended by institutions. But in most cases, you can do more, and you should. I would recommend a mix of intense exercise complemented by long moderate physical activities, such as commuting by bike or nature walks.

Step two is to decrease risks of sedentary job. Cut periods of prolonged sitting by having a stand-up desk. You can also get a watch with a “move” reminder. Take short walks, or find a place to do a series of lunges or push-ups. If that sounds unnatural and ridiculous, think about the fact that you’re sitting unnaturally for 8+ hours per day.

These small differences can make a big difference. The secret is to move regularly.

Step three is to change your sedentary life. Most of us cannot change our jobs. However, it’s up to us to take the necessary steps to have a healthy lifestyle. What does it mean in practice?

  • Cooking instead of ordering or buying precooked dishes
  • Having hobbies with minimum physical activity such as dancing, photography or gardening instead of passive entertainment such as TV or video games
  • Biking, running or walking for commuting as often as possible instead of driving the car

It is necessary to go through each step. I have never seen so many people with sports watches or gym memberships, and believe they are good with two or three weekly gym sessions. However, it is the loss of physical activity during the many other hours of the day that is having a profoundly negative effect on our health. Don’t just focus on the exercising hours, make sure to move regularly during the day, every day.

One thought on “Exercise alone does not offset sedentary lifestyle”

  1. This is a great post for people who are time restricted. I work with single parents who would love to exercise but simply do t have much flexibility with time. However, knowing it can be incorporated via small steps throughout the day, they’re able to achieve better health. Thanks!


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