This is further complicated by the fact that 30 minutes of exercise may not actually be enough to really impact fitness levels, especially if you spend the rest of your day sitting. As a recent study by researchers at Columbia University found, it’s what you do across the other 16 or so hours you’re awake that really counts.
This is good news for those who feel that they’ve let their fitness slip during lockdown. The study found light physical activities, such as housework, making a cup of coffee or a leisurely stroll, have a significant impact on your fitness. So much so, your body may not really be missing the gym as much as you think.
"For decades, we've been telling people that the way to stay healthy is to get at least 30 minutes of exercise five days a week," says Dr Keith Diaz, assistant professor of behavioural medicine at Columbia University. "But even if you're one of the few adults who can stick to this advice, 30 minutes represents just 2 per cent of your entire day. Is it really possible that our activity habits for just 2 per cent of the day is all that matters when it comes to health?"
Good question, doc. The answer is no. Using data from six studies that included more than 130,000 adults in the United Kingdom, United States, and Sweden, the researchers analysed how different combinations of activities – including moderate-to-vigorous exercise (such as running, brisk walking, skipping, HIIT), light physical activity (such as housework or casual walking) and sitting down – affect mortality.
Their conclusion? Although thirty minutes per day of exercise reduced the odds of an earlier death by up to 80 per cent for people who sat for less than seven hours, it did nothing for those who sat for over 11 to 12 hours per day, the researchers found.
"In other words, it is not as simple as checking off that 'exercise' box on your to-do list," says Diaz. "A healthy movement profile requires more than 30 minutes of daily exercise. Moving around and not remaining sedentary all day also matters."
The researchers found that getting three minutes of exercise – say 10 burpees, 10 push-ups, 10 sit-ups – or 12 minutes of light activity – vacuuming, putting out the washing – per hour of sitting was optimal for improving health and reducing the risk of early death.
Using this basic formula, the study found multiple combinations of activities can reduce your risk of early death by 30 per cent:
- 55 minutes of exercise, 4 hours of light physical activity and 11 hours of sitting
- 13 minutes of exercise, 5.5 hours of light physical activity and 10.3 hours of sitting
- 3 minutes of exercise, 6 hours of light physical activity, and 9.7 hours of sitting
This is good news for people who may not have the time, ability, or desire to engage in formal exercise," Diaz says. "They can get health benefits from a lot of light physical activity and just a little moderate-to-vigorous activity."
So, pick your formula and strap on your smartwatch while you make your bed or stack the dishwasher. And maybe don’t sweat the fact that you’re not busting your gut in the gym right now.