woman sitting at a desk in a suit and doing stretching exercises
Mental Health & Self-Care Print

How Much Exercise is Enough?

Exercise is an essential component of a healthy lifestyle. But how much do you really need to do?  We may finally know the answer based on a huge study published recently in the British Medical Journal

Using a measurement known as person-years, this analysis included just over 149 million data points. The study included all types of activities someone might do over the course of a day, and gave the following example as a good prescription: “…climbing stairs 10 minutes, vacuuming 15 minutes, gardening 20 minutes, running 20 minutes, and walking or cycling for transportation 25 minutes on a daily basis…”

That may seem like a lot of activity, but small changes to what you’re already doing could help you achieve it. Common wisdom like parking a bit farther from the door when you’re running errands or taking the stairs rather than elevators or escalators all add up. And it’s really great to know that it all counts. 

Physical activity lowers the risk of disease

The study concluded that this level of moving around was able to reduce the risk of breast cancer by 14 percent , colon cancer by 21 percent , diabetes by 28 percent, the most common type of heart disease by 25 percent, and the most common type of stroke by 26 percent.

That’s a lot of risk reduction, and one that any drug company would be delighted to achieve with a pill they could sell. And achieving it is within your power!

There was another noteworthy conclusion:  increased exercise continued to have greater benefits but only up to a certain point, beyond which the additional benefits flattened out and didn’t have the same impact. That’s great news for those of us who’d like to get the biggest bang for our buck but don’t have endless amounts of time to exercise daily.

A type of measurement you may not be familiar with was used in this study, one called METs.  MET stands for metabolic equivalent task, and it’s essentially a comparison of the activity being performed compared to how much energy is burned while seated and at rest. It’s worth becoming familiar with METs as many more studies assessing exercise are likely to use them.

How much exercise does it take to cancel out the risk of sitting all day?

Finally, this study supports recent research on the amount of exercise it takes to overcome the negative health impact of sitting, which many of us do every day in our desk jobs. 

Right before the Olympics started, another British journal called the Lancet published a series on exercise, finding that an hour of activity a day can overcome the downside of remaining seated for eight hours. 

So what are you waiting for?  Time to get up and get moving!