The health harms associated with prolonged sitting can be offset by exceeding weekly recommended physical activity levels, says the World Health Organization (WHO) in new global guidelines on physical activity and sedentary behaviour.
These are published in a special dedicated issue of the British Journal of Sports Medicine, with the WHO emphasising in the new guidelines that all physical activity counts and is good for long term health.
It’s the first time that a recommendation of this kind has been made, the editors of the peer-reviewed journal point out. It reflects a large and growing body of evidence linking extensive sedentary time to serious ill health and a heightened risk of early death.
Research involved 44,000 people
New data also published in the same special issue of the British Journal of Sports Medicine shows that adults who clock up long hours of sedentary time every day can counter these risks by increasing the amount of physical activity they do.
The research, involving more than 44,000 people wearing activity trackers from four countries, reveals that a high daily tally of sedentary time (defined in this study as 10 or more hours) is linked to a significantly heightened risk of death, particularly among people who are physically inactive.
But 30 to 40 minutes each day of moderate- to vigorous- intensity physical activity substantially weakens this risk, bringing it down to levels associated with very low amounts of sedentary time.
No specific maximum thresholds
The findings broadly confirm the recommendations set out in the 2020 WHO’s ‘Global Guidelines on Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour’.
There’s not enough evidence to recommend specific maximum thresholds for sedentary behaviour, say the guidelines. But everyone, irrespective of their age or abilities, should try to limit their daily sedentary time and replace it with physical activity of any intensity.
“All physical activity counts. This could be anything from climbing the stairs instead of taking the lift, a walk around the block, a spot of gardening, or some household chores, to going for a run or bike ride, a high-intensity interval training workout, or team sport,” says the Journal in a statement.
Any activity is better than none
“It all adds up to the weekly tally of 150-300 minutes of moderate intensity, or at least 75-100 minutes of vigorous intensity, physical activity, the WHO guidance recommends. But any amount of physical activity is better for health than none.”
In economic terms, doing at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity every week, which is the lower end of the range recommended in the new WHO guidelines, would increase global gross domestic product (GDP) by between 0.15%–0.24% a year between now and 2050, estimate the researchers.
That’s worth up to US$446-billion a year and US$6.0–8.6-trillion, cumulatively, over the 30 years in 2019 prices.
The new guidelines, which aim to drive national policy and practice around the globe, involved more than 40 scientists from six continents.