How two minutes an hour of proper exercise can lead to better health

Lesley Dobson / 01 May 2015

Sitting for too long is bad for your health and low-impact activities don’t cancel out the health hazards. However, by putting a little more energy into your exercise you may be able to cancel out the negatives.

When scientists at the University of Utah School of Medicine looked at how much extra activity would make up for too much sitting, they found that swapping two minutes of sitting for two minutes of low activity – standing – didn’t cancel out the effects of spending two minutes on the sofa.

However, swapping two minutes of sitting for two minutes of light activity each hour, such as walking, made a difference to the length of life among people who spent more than half of their day sitting down. Trading off two minutes of sitting for walking, cleaning or light gardening each hours, was linked to a 33 per cent lower risk of dying.

Read our guide to getting fit without going to the gym

Lead author, Srinivasan Beddhu M.D., professor of internal medicine explained that while it’s clear that we use energy to exercise, strolling and other light activities use energy too. Even short walks can add up to a lot when you repeat them many times in the course of a week.

“Based on these results we would recommend adding two minutes of walking each hour in combination with normal activities, which should include 2.5 hours of moderate exercise each week,” says Professor Beddhu.  Moderate exercise strengthens the heart, muscles and bones, and confers health benefits that low and light intensity activities can’t.

If it has been a while since you did any exercise, even walking for two minutes may be a challenge. Start gently, perhaps walking in your home, from one room to another (making sure there are no wires, loose rugs or other obstacles in the way). If you are unsteady on your feet, and walking outside in your garden, or for a short distance down the road for the first time in months:

  • Take someone with you
  • Wear well-fitting shoes
  • Don’t overdo it

If you have health problems which may make walking or light gardening difficult, check with your doctor whether it is a good idea to do this exercise.

This research used data from National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), to study whether longer periods of low intensity activities, for instance standing, and light intensity activities, such as casual walking, could lengthen the lives of people who are sedentary for more than half their walking hours. These findings were published in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology (CJASN).

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