Having a sedentary lifestyle puts one at risk of a number of unwanted health conditions such as diabetes, some forms of cancer and heart disease. Experts, however, suggest that people who are sedentary can boost their engagement in physical activities by focusing on small increases rather than going for public health recommendations on physical exercise.

Researchers of two separate studies that were published in the BMJ on Jan. 21 acknowledged that although the current target of 150 minutes of exercise per week, or an equivalent of half an hour of physical activities for a minimum of five days a week to reduce one's likelihood for chronic diseases should not be abandoned, sedentary people could, in essence, go below this standard.

Philip Sparling, from Georgia Institute of Technology's School of Applied Physiology pointed out that in terms of improving health and activity, having some forms of activity is better than none. He said that individuals who are inactive may find the weekly 150 minute exercise goal quite overwhelming and unattainable and thus discourage them from engaging in a few minutes of physical activities during the day.  

Philipe de Souto Barreto, from the University Hospital of Toulouse in France, who authored the second study, said that benefits can still be achieved even when people do less than the recommended amount of exercise.

A study involving more than 250,000 American adults who were between 50 and 71 years old, for instance, has found that less than an hour of moderate physical activity per week is associated with reduced all-cause mortality risk of 15 percent. At least 20 minutes of more vigorous exercise less than once per week, on the other hand, was link with reduced risks of death by 23 percent.

A review of six earlier studies likewise found that people who walk for up to 74 minutes per week have 19 percent reduced odds for all-cause mortality compared with individuals who do nothing.

"The main purpose should be to promote small incremental increases in daily physical activity rather than to meet current guidelines," Barreto wrote. "Achieving target physical activity recommendations should remain as a goal but not the core public health message surrounding physical activity."

Sparling also noted of the positive effects of small increases in physical activities saying that this could gradually result in more intense exercises.

"Health practitioners could assess physical activity or exercise at every visit, discuss realistic options, set specific goals, and provide support and follow-up; each of these has been found to increase the likelihood of compliance," Sparling and colleagues wrote

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