Exercise hard for 3 minutes for every hour you spend sitting down, says research

Yep, just 30 minutes of hard and fast exercise – or 12 minutes of moderate intensity – can offset a sedentary lifestyle

Woman doing a tough workout to offset a sedentary lifestyle
(Image credit: Getty Images)

It's long been known that a life spent mostly sitting down is very bad for us. A sedentary lifestyle – one involving little to no physical activity – is made possible by a desk job and a frankly incredible amount of content to watch on streaming services and addictive games to play. 

This problem has only been exacerbated as a result of the global pandemic, with research showing a sedentary lifestyle increased in young adults due to coronavirus lockdowns. Although it's in the nature of a lot of our jobs to sit down quite a bit, surely hard workout at the end of the day should be able to offset the damage? 

Well, yes – and no. Researchers from Glasgow Caledonian University conducted a four year study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. It was found 30 minute of high-intensity exercise each day offset this damage for those who sat up to seven hours each day. However, for those who sat longer, the study found it did not reduce the harmful effects of sitting, which include hypertension and the likelihood of developing prediabetic symptoms.

You'll need to do at least three minutes of vigorous activity, or 12 minutes of moderate activity, for each hour you spend sitting down. If you sit for around 11 hours a day, a vigorous 33-minute HIIT workout could do the trick, or you would need to power-walk for over two hours to achieve the same benefits. 

People doing box jumps in a cross-training class

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Walking to lose weight is a wonderful way to exercise. It's easy to incorporate into your day and it's low-intensity, helping you get away from the screens and out into the street, or, preferably, the parks and into nature. Research has found a nature walk lowers the production of cortisol in our bodies, which is a stress hormone that encourages our bodies to cling onto fat.

However, who's got a spare two hours at the end of every day? If you're keen to keep those sedentary lifestyle lbs off, you'll need to up the intensity in order to get your workout in in a timely manner. HIIT workouts like our four-week shape-up challenge are extremely efficient in this regard: HIIT stands for "high-intensity interval training", and operates on a principle of working as hard as you can for a short amount of time, stopping to rest, then going again.

For example, let's say you're in the gym on one of the best rowing machines. You might row as hard as you can, flat-out for one minute, slowing down to a gentle row for 30 seconds before speeding up and rowing flat-out for another minute. Four minutes of rowing (or six minutes overall) and you're done, moving on to the next exercise.

You can approach almost any cardiovascular or calisthenics exercise in this way. Whether you're doing squat-jumps in the park or a CrossFit workout in a dedicated gym, you can pack a lot into a very short space of time, making it perfect to offset your sedentary lifestyle. Grab yourself some comfortable clothes, a set of your best workout shoes and go get started tonight!

Matt Evans
Matt Evans

Matt Evans is an experienced health and fitness journalist and Channel Editor at Fit&Well. He's previously written for titles like Men's Health and Red Bull, and covers all things exercise and nutrition on the Fit&Well website. 

Matt originally discovered exercise through martial arts: he holds a black belt in Karate and remains a keen kickboxer and runner. His top fitness tip? Stretch.