You have a long commute back home from work and watch a bit too much TV at night, so you make sure to hit the gym hard each day to counter that—solid strategy, right?
Yes it is, but you might need to do a bit more. Sure, it’s certainly better than nothing, but new research is now saying that what you actually need is—wait for it—less time spent sitting. In a study out of the Netherlands, researchers put a daily hard workout up against longer, low-intensity activity by asking volunteers to follow one of three four-day plans:
- Baseline Group: 14 hours a day of sitting, plus 1 hour of walking and 1 hour of standing.
- Exercise Group: same as above, but swapping 1 hour of sitting for an intense stationary bike workout.
- Low-Intensity Activity Group: same as baseline, but swapping out 6 hours of sitting for 4 hours of light walking and 2 hours of standing—which, though less intense, burned the same number of calories as the exercise plan.
The results, published in the journal PLOS One, show that breaking out into a sweat is not always the solution. Compared to sitting and exercise, the low-intensity activity improved the volunteers’ insulin sensitivity the most, a change that could decrease their risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
In addition, lipid levels were better after longer, light physical activity compared to sitting, with some improvement compared to exercise. Poor lipid levels are linked to heart disease.
Sitting less by walking and standing more was clearly beneficial, but even an hour of vigorous exercise couldn’t undo the damage done by sitting all day.
The results don’t mean that hard workouts aren’t good for you. They definitely are. Instead, the study reinforces what other research has said out about the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle: sitting can kill—and moving more throughout the day will do your body good.