Your body is designed for near-continuous movement during the day, and there are over 10,000 papers in the medical literature confirming that excessive sitting is an independent risk factor for illness1,2 and premature death. For example, physical inactivity raises your risk of general ill health by 114 percent, your risk of Alzheimer's disease by 82 percent, and your risk of depression by 150 percent.
Overall, chronic inactivity has a mortality rate similar to smoking.3 According to the latest statistics,4,5,6,7 life expectancy has declined in the U.S., dropping from 76.5 years in 2014 to 76.3 in 2015 for men, and from 81.3 to 81.2 for women. This means American women now die, on average, about one month earlier than they did in 2014, and men have lost about two months of life span.8
While this decline is likely to have a number of contributing factors, inactivity may well be one of them. As noted by Dr. Jiaquan Xu, the report's lead author, the decline in life expectancy is primarily caused by a rise in several categories of preventable deaths.9
30 Minutes of Daily Exercise Could Prevent 1 in 12 Premature Deaths
"People who exercise five days a week for 30 minutes significantly reduce their risk of dying early and of developing heart disease, even if a sports club or gym is not an option, according to a new international study.14 Tracking 130,000 people in 17 countries, both rich and poor, the study found that whether it's going to the gym, walking to work, or tackling household chores like laundry or gardening, being physically active extends life and reduces illness."
While previous meta-analyses concluded there's a Goldilock's Zone for exercise, above which returns diminish or disappear, this effect was not found here. On the contrary, the more physical activity people reported getting, the greater their risk reduction for heart disease and premature death.
They also found that exercise had a "no ceiling effect," meaning there was no level above which exercise started producing health risks. Even extremely high levels of physical activity, defined as more than 41 hours per week, had no discernible health risks.
According to lead author Scott Lear, a heart specialist at St. Paul's Hospital in Canada, "Walking for as little as 30 minutes most days of the week has a substantial benefit, and higher physical activity is associated with even lower risk." He also noted that daily walking is among the most affordable preventive measures out there. While drugs, and even eating more vegetables, can be costly, walking is free.
The study concluded that if entire populations were to meet exercise guidelines of 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise (such as walking) five days per week, 5 percent or 1 in 20 cases of heart disease and 8 percent or 1 in 12 premature deaths could be prevented, worldwide.
Even greater gains could be made were populations to increase activity levels to one or two hours per day, seven days a week. People who walked for more than 750 minutes per week (just over an hour and 45 minutes per day) reduced their risk of early death by 36 percent. On a global scale, 10 percent of heart disease cases and 13 percent of premature deaths could be prevented were populations to get nearly two hours of physical activity each day.
How Do You Squeeze in 2 Hours of Exercise Per Day?
If you're like most people, you're probably scratching your head right now, wondering how you could possibly squeeze in up to two hours of exercise in an already packed schedule. The key to the equation is to focus on nonexercise movement — physical activity that does not involve changing clothes and hitting the gym. As reported by The Guardian:15
"[T]he study showed that those people who have the highest activity levels are those for whom it is part of their everyday working lives. In developing countries, more people still have physically taxing jobs but as they become more economically prosperous, their activity levels fall. 'They are going from sweeping the floor to buying a vacuum,' said Lear.
He does not advocate selling the vacuum cleaner, but we could all incorporate more activity into our lives rather than relying on occasional forays to the gym … 'We spend a lot of time in meetings. If it is just two or three people, why not have a walkaround meeting?' He also suggests playing with children in the park rather than sitting watching them, increasing the walk to work by getting off the tube or bus early and taking the stairs rather than the lift."