Prolonged Sitting Negatively Impacts on Longevity. Can Exercise Counteract it?

The media is full of stories of the harmful effects of prolonged sitting. You might ask yourself: “how can I do anything about this when sitting is a requirement of my job?” Therefore, it would be interesting to identify how much movement or exercise is required to counteract the negative impact of sitting, if this is possible.

Cardiovascular exercise consistently demonstrates a reduction in cardiovascular disease by as much as 50%. The benefits of other forms of exercise such as resistance training is less clear. As discussed in the previous blog, exercise is only beneficial in terms of longevity when it is sustained throughout life. In other words, those that exercise when they are young, and then stop, derive no lasting benefit from it.

How Much Exercise is Required to Undo the Harmful Effects of Sitting?

According to MedScape, those who exercised for roughly 150-200 minutes per week countered some of the negative cardiovascular effects of prolonged sitting. The risks were “all but erased” for participants who engaged in at least 300 minutes of physical exercise per week. This equates to 45 minutes per day.

It is logical to surmise that the longer somebody sits then the longer they would have to move in an attempt to counteract the negative impact of being static. Others suggest that exercise cannot fully undo the harmful effects of being static for hours on end. Perhaps it is like saying that eating sweets twice a day can be undone by eating vegetables with your dinner! When the impact of prolonged sitting is examined it demonstrates that negative changes occur in inflammatory and cardiovascular markers that would indicate that it is doing harm to the body. The optimal way of dealing with this is to move intermittently, just as the optimal way of maintaining health is to avoid making bad food choices in the first place as opposed to trying to counteract unhealthy choices by eating healthier foods at other meals.

From an evolutionary perspective, we know that we are designed to move consistently. At no time in human history have we spent so much time sitting in one place. The consequences of this are manifest in terms of obesity, cardiovascular disease and mental health statistics. Our nervous systems and brains are stimulated through movement. The lack of healthy stimulus for our brains can create brain fog, fatigue, and anxiety. This then decreases a person’s motivation to exercise and creates a negative feedback loop that gives rise to more sitting and less drive to exercise.

Telomeres and Longevity

One means of determining lifespan is by measuring components at the end of our chromosomes known as telomeres. A whole industry has built up trying to sell products that prevent the breakdown of telomeres and thereby slowing the ageing process and prolong lifespan.

Professor Larry Tucker performed research on 5,823 adults. They found that those adults who performed high levels of physical activity each week had almost 9 years less biologic aging of their chromosomes compared to those who were sedentary. Those who performed vigorous activity 35-45 minutes per day, 5 days per week, had the longest telomeres. Those undergoing moderate exercise intensity had to exercise for longer to achieve these same benefits.

running image by physio clinic

Running Can Literally Add Years to Your Life

According to Angelique Brellenthin, runners tend to live on average three years longer than non-runners. She states that “We further estimated that for every 1 hour you spend running, you net gain an additional 7 hours of life. Beyond running, other studies have found that people live on average 3-4 years longer if they are regularly active compared to inactive.”

The key to obtaining longevity benefits from exercise is that it is sustained into old-age. Therefore, it is very important that exercise is as enjoyable as possible, so that it is maintained. It is vital to minimise the amount of time you spend sitting and to realise that prolonged sitting will have a negative impact physically and mentally. Because prolonged inactivity creates a sense of mental fatigue it decreases our motivation to exercise and therefore, building movement into our day provides a multitude of benefits for our health.

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