Yes, we know: Sitting — the new smoking — is public (health) enemy number-one. Hanging out horizontal is so toxic, the warning goes, because the negative health impact of sedentary behavior is irreversible. Studies have shown time and time again that the act increases our risk of developing various chronic diseases and ups the chances of dying early, even if we supplement ass-on-seat time with physical activity. This fatalistic narrative, however, may be changing course. Recent analysis of public-health data suggests that moving our bodies can counter-balance the harmful effects of loafing around.
A UK research team re-analyzed data from a 2008 England health survey and published their findings in the journal BioMed Central. The survey concerned the physical activity and fitness habits of 22,623 participants. The current study specifically focused on a sub-group of (slightly more than) 2,300 participants who’d submitted more detailed personal info via activity-monitoring bracelets.
Researchers classified four types of participants: Busy Bees (physically active and not sedentary); sedentary exercises (physically active and spent time sitting); couch potatoes, (inactive and sedentary); light movers (neither particularly active nor sedentary).
They defined physically active as "accumulating at least 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per week." Sedentary behavior, meanwhile, meant “any waking behavior with low energy expenditure while in a sitting or reclining position.”
The analysis showed that participants who exercised for at least 150 minutes each week were healthier than their inactive counterparts in terms of cardiovascular and metabolic health. The benefits of an active lifestyle persisted for sitters and non-sitters alike. The results jibed with those from an earlier U.S. study that similarly depicted active people (based on the same 150-minute-standard) as better off than non-active people, regardless of their ass-on-seat time.
Together, the two studies “suggest that being physically active may confer some protection from the potentially deleterious impact of high sedentary behaviour,” researchers wrote.
So, no, the research isn’t “good news for lazy people.” But, it does help justify the decision to ditch work for a workout.