Less than half of all Americans meet the federal guidelines for activity. Unfortunately, even those adults that meet the guideline often negate the benefits of their activity by pursuing long periods of inactivity either through work (by sitting at a desk all day or commuting) or in their leisure time (by watching television, playing on the computer etc.). A 2012 study found that people spent an average of 64 hours a week sitting even when they met the federal guidelines for activity. While activity is good, each hour of sitting erases nearly 10 percent of the health benefit of an hour of running. This means that an individual that runs an hour each day can easily lose as much as 80 percent or more of the health benefits from commuting and being a desk jockey. If your exercise program is less rigorous, say for instance you do a brisk walk, the effect is even more scandalous. A moderate-intensity exercise program loses its benefit at a rate of 16 percent per hour of sitting.
The bad news is that the more you sit the greater your risk that your life will be shorter and that you’ll have poorer health (and therefore reduce the likelihood of being able to live independently). At least one doctor has compared the effects of sitting to smoking. Just as with smoking, researchers found that being sedentary increases your risk of death and disease even if you meet the current physical activity guidelines. Another study found that people who work out are 30 percent less active than their inactive counterparts are on the days they don’t work out, evidently in the belief that they since they’ve worked out, they don’t need to do any more. Researchers call individuals that exercise but who lead otherwise inactive lifestyles, active couch potatoes. They’ve found that exercise won’t compensate for too much sitting. The good news is that standing and other movements appear to trigger processes related to the breakdown of fats and sugars in the body. Those breaks can be as short as a minute and as easy to accomplish as a change in posture.
Do you have what it takes to be considered active? Adults up to age 64 need at least 2 hours and 30 minutes (150 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (i.e., brisk walking) and two or more days of weight training muscle-strengthening activities that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms) each week.
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