Working out won’t reverse the hours you sit

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Closeup midsection of an overweight couple with junk food holding remote control

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The science is out and it seems like everything we thought we knew about exercise is wrong. At least, misunderstood. According to a new statement published by the American Heart Association, all of those hours at the gym or running laps, in fact won’t make up for all the time we spend sitting in our office chairs.

Just take it from Deborah Rohm Young, Ph.D., Director of Behavioral Research at Kaiser Permanente Southern California and Chairperson of the research. She states, “Regardless of how much physical activity someone gets, prolonged sedentary time could negatively impact the health of your heart and blood vessels.” To put it metaphorically, that salad you have planned for dinner won’t make up for the after work happy hour drinks.

According to the American Heart Association, participating in a prolonged sedentary lifestyle can lead to cardiovascular disease, increased risk of developing diabetes, and a higher risk of death from, not only these diseases, but any disease across the board.

Young continues, “There are many important factors we don’t understand about sedentary time yet. The types of studies available identify trends but don’t prove cause and effect. We don’t have information about how much sedentary behavior is bad for health—the best advice at this time is to ‘sit less and move more.”

The statement also reinforces the American Heart Association’s recommendation of 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week, or around 30 minutes per day. But because the new research is showing that even moderate to vigorous exercise doesn’t cancel out the risks of a mostly sedentary lifestyle, the focus is shifting to consistent activity, as opposed to hitting a prescribed activity minute count.

So what can you do to break out of a sedentary lifestyle? Researchers agree that any activity that increases your metabolic equivalents, or METs, above the 1.5 threshold are acceptable.

A few examples are leisurely walking (which uses about 2.5 METs) and vigorous activity such as running (which uses more than 3 METs).

It feels like the statement released by the American Heart Association changes everything, but in fact it only serves to remind us that we need to get up and moving as often as possible. For those who work at a desk, it’s imperative to take scheduled breaks every hour or so. And take the stairs while you’re at it!

Mandy Burkholder is a travel, adventure, and outdoor writer who honed her craft in the foothills of the La Plata Mountains of Southwest Colorado. After a stint in the Swiss Alps, she now resides in Tennessee. Follow her on twitter — @mandyburkhold3r