Finding just two minutes in each waking hour to do some walking can offset the known health hazards of sitting for long periods of time, researchers say.
Health researchers have long known that sitting for extended stretches of time every day can increase risks for early death, as well as leading to conditions like heart disease, diabetes or cancer.
Researchers suggest that there has been too much focus on the desirability of intense exercise -- something not always achievable for the average person -- and not enough consideration of the possible benefits of low-intensity or incidental physical activity like a couple of minutes walking engaged in throughout the day.
"Even if one were to achieve the recommended 2.5 hours per week of moderate activity, that is still only about two percent of the total awake hours in a week, assuming that you are awake 16 hours a day," says Dr. Srinivasan Beddhu from the University of Utah. "I think what we do in the rest of the 98 percent of time is very important and has health consequences."
Surveys have found that that 80 percent of Americans fall short of completing that recommended amount of moderate exercise.
In their study, researchers examined data from around 3,600 participants in an existing study on aging to see if incidental activity like standing or walking could have a health benefit for people spending more than half their waking hours sitting.
Following the participants for 3 years, they determined that trading 2 minutes per hour of sedentary activity such as sitting for normal-paced walking was associated with a one-third lower risk of death.
"It was fascinating to see the results because the current national focus is on moderate or vigorous activity," says Beddhu. "To see that light activity had an association with lower mortality is intriguing."
The researchers emphasize that two minutes of walking each hour cannot, by itself, make a person healthy and fit. People should still attempt to incorporate some moderate targeted exercise in their daily regimen.
"Combining light activity with the recommended moderate-to-vigorous activity goals has the potential to double weekly energy expenditure," Beddhu says. "Our findings suggest that replacing sedentary duration with an increase in light activity might confer a survival benefit."