22 minutes of physical exercise a day can offset the harmful effects of a sedentary lifestyle


It is no secret that we live in a sedentary society. According to data from the Ministry of Health for the year 2020, 36.4% of the Spanish population over 15 years old admits to not exercising and spending their leisure time sedentarily. This trend is exacerbated by increasingly sedentary jobs, where a significant portion of the population spends seven to 10 hours a day sitting in front of a computer screen. The Spanish Society of Obesity (SEEDO) estimates that a sedentary person increases public health spending by 26%, with a yearly impact of around 1.56 billion euros on the Spanish healthcare system.

The Impact of Sedentary Lifestyle on Health

A recent study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, based on data from nearly 12,000 participants from Norway, Sweden, and the United States over the age of 50, concluded that just 22 minutes of moderate or vigorous exercise per day could help counteract the negative health effects of a sedentary lifestyle and reduce the risk of mortality from any cause. This finding underscores the importance of even minimal physical activity in combating the health risks associated with sedentary behavior.

The Benefits of Minimal Exercise

Edvard Sagelv, the lead author of the study and a professor at the University of Arctic in Norway, emphasizes that the 22 minutes of activity can be accumulated throughout the day and do not necessarily need to be performed continuously. This aligns with findings from another study published in the European Heart Journal, which suggested that brief bursts of intense exercise during daily routines could have a significant impact on the health of sedentary individuals.

Expert Insights: Cardiovascular Health

Cardiologist Manuel Anguita from the Reina Sofía University Hospital in Córdoba, Spain, points out that cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death in Spain, and sedentary behavior plays a crucial role in their development. He explains that exercise has direct benefits on cardiovascular health, such as reducing inflammation and improving cardiac efficiency, as well as indirect benefits by addressing other cardiovascular risk factors. While it’s challenging to quantify the exact percentage of cardiovascular diseases that could be prevented with a less sedentary society, Anguita believes it could be significant, perhaps as much as a quarter to a third.

Insights from Oncology

César A. Rodríguez, a leading oncologist from the University Clinical Hospital of Salamanca and president of the Spanish Society of Medical Oncology (SEOM), emphasizes the positive impact of exercise on cancer mortality. While the exact influence of exercise on cancer development and prognosis varies, Rodríguez highlights that unhealthy lifestyle habits, including sedentary behavior, poor diet, and tobacco and alcohol consumption, contribute to approximately one-third of cancer deaths. He stresses the importance of addressing these factors collectively to reduce cancer mortality rates.

Understanding the Minimum Threshold

While the study suggesting 22 minutes of daily exercise as a minimum threshold for mitigating the effects of sedentary behavior is promising, experts caution against misinterpretation. They advocate for a holistic approach to physical activity, emphasizing that more exercise yields greater benefits. Building upon this, Anguita references another study indicating that even 4,000 steps per day, well below the often-cited 10,000 steps recommended by the World Health Organization, can reduce the risk of mortality.

The Role of Intensity and Duration

Both Sagelv’s study and additional research highlight the importance of intensity and duration of physical activity. Higher levels of activity were associated with a lower risk of mortality, regardless of sedentary time. Moreover, increasing the intensity of exercise further enhances its health benefits. While vigorous activity provides greater benefits, even moderate-intensity exercise for a limited time offers significant health advantages.

Public Health Measures and Recommendations

In light of these findings, experts advocate for public health measures to promote physical activity in daily life. Creating incentives for physical activity, such as safe walking paths, bike lanes, and access to green spaces, can encourage people to be more active. These initiatives, supported by evidence of their effectiveness, are essential for improving population health outcomes.

Conclusion: Empowering Healthy Lifestyles

In conclusion, the research underscores the importance of regular physical activity in mitigating the health risks associated with sedentary behavior. While the minimum threshold of 22 minutes of exercise per day is a promising starting point, striving for more activity and higher intensity yields greater benefits. By adopting a proactive approach to physical activity and implementing supportive public health measures, individuals and societies can work together to foster healthier lifestyles and reduce the burden of preventable diseases.

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