One hour of physical exercise such as brisk walking or cycling could eliminate the harmful effects of sitting for more than eight hours a day, research published in the Lancet has found.
The authors stressed that more needed to be done to tackle the ‘global pandemic’ of physical inactivity.
The paper follows advice from Public Health England (PHE) calling on GPs and other healthcare professionals to become ‘physical activity role models’ so that they can better promote physical activity in patients.
Researchers analysed data from over 1m people from 16 studies. Patients were divided into one of four groups based on how physically active they were.
The results found that people who sit for eight hours a day but are physically active had a lower risk of death than people who sat for fewer hours a day but were not physically active.
The authors suggested that this means physical activity is particularly important to improve mortality, no matter how many hours are spent sitting in the day.
Compared to the most active group, people in the lower two groups for physical activity had mortality rates that were 12-59% higher.
They defined around 60-75 minutes of brisk walking at a speed of 5.6km/h or cycling at 16km/h a day as sufficient physical activity to offset the increased risk of death from inactivity.
Dr Zoe Williams, RCGP clinical champion for physical activity and lifestyle, said: ‘GPs want their patients to live healthy lives for as long as possible, but without regular physical activity patients could be putting themselves at a greater risk of life-threatening diseases, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity and cancer.
‘Rates of obesity and diabetes are rising – costing the NHS billions each year – and our patients can reduce their risk of these diseases and conditions by increasing their level of daily physical activity. As this research shows, it doesn’t need to be a chore – one hour of exercise, spread across the day can make all the difference, and this should be encouraged.’
Lead author Professor Ulf Ekelund said: ‘There has been a lot of concern about the health risks associated with today’s more sedentary lifestyles. Our message is a positive one: it is possible to reduce – or even eliminate – these risks if we are active enough, even without having to take up sports or go to the gym.
‘For many people who commute to work and have office-based jobs, there is no way to escape sitting for prolonged periods of time. For these people in particular, we cannot stress enough the importance of getting exercise, whether it’s getting out for a walk at lunchtime, going for a run in the morning or cycling to work. An hour of physical activity per day is the ideal, but if this is unmanageable, then at least doing some exercise each day can help reduce the risk.’