Walking and other cardio exercise helps overcome the health concerns of a sedentary lifestyle, but even light activity makes a big impact. While 30 minutes of walking per day meets your recommended activity guidelines, you’re still at risk if you’re completely sedentary the rest of the day. Get up, move around, and stretch out at least 2-5 minutes every hour and spread out light tasks throughout the day to keep your body moving. Walk when you can, and move even when you can’t go for a long walk.
Read on for a working definition of “sedentary,” why you still need to stay moving (in some way) even if you’ve taken a walk today, and tips on how to ensure you stay moving all day long.
What’s the definition of “sedentary?” (How many steps?)
The definition of a sedentary lifestyle is generally considered getting less than 5,000 steps per day if you’re a healthy individual.* Steps don’t capture your entire amount of exercise for the day, but for most people they are a pretty good proxy. If you bike for an hour a day, for instance, you wouldn’t be registering steps but you’d be getting a lot of cardio in.
That 5,000 step number relates to your actual steps taken during the day – not the number that you’re able to track. If you know that you get more steps than you’re able to register because you’re not able to take your phone with you all of the time, it’s more important that you take more steps than the specific number on your Pacer app (or other tracker).
*What if you have physical limitations?
If you’re dealing with an injury or a chronic condition that makes it hard to walk, just get as active as you can. The general Sedentary Lifestyle guidelines are designed for healthy people who could walk more, but simply don’t. You don’t want to risk further injury, or exacerbating your health conditions by walking more than you’re able to safely. Even small increases in the number of a person’s steps can actually reduce your risk of death and serious health complications. Walk as much as you can regardless of your number.
If I exercise 30 minutes a day, is it ok to sit for the rest?
The short answer is no! While 30 minutes per day will cover your daily recommended steps, that doesn’t mean you can plop down on the couch and be done with activity. You might burn 200-300 calories per hour on a brisk walk, but that’s only a fraction of the calories you burn every day. According to Health.gov, to maintain your current weight the average man requires 2,000-3000 calories per day and the average woman 1,600-2,400. Your resting metabolic rate, or the calories your body burns when not active, make up a larger portion of your calorie burn.
It turns out that doing light activity throughout the day can reduce the risk of death in older individuals, and can benefit the health of almost everyone. Light activity is basically anything that gets you up and moving to some degree. Sitting on the couch watching TV is completely sedentary.
Why even light activity combats sedentary health risks
Examples of light activity include doing dishes, light housework, or moving around your house. While the calorie burn of light activity is less than that of brisk walking, most active people do a lot more light movement than something like power walking every day.
This kind of light activity is often missed when self-reporting activity level. You probably don’t think of cooking as exercise, so you’re unlikely to note it down. While step counters like Pacer can help you capture more of your light activity, certain activities like washing dishes are difficult to track.
Another key benefit of light activity is it gets you off the couch and moving.
Steps instead of sedentary behavior is doubly powerful!
By walking when you’d normally be sedentary, you both burn additional calories and break up your sitting time. That’s an extra benefit over and above simply getting more intense in your “active time.” Walking helps to boost your mood and give you fewer bad days. It also helps to relieve stress, which can help you avoid stress or comfort eating. It’s hard to walk and snack at the same time, so walking can help you interrupt excessive snacking behavior.
Walking after eating is especially powerful, in that it helps to lower your blood sugar. Many people plop down on the couch after eating and do some long TV watching. If you can capture that time and get active you’re already ahead of the game.
Get active even if you can’t go for a walk
If you work sitting down, or you’re not able to get out and walk for long periods of time, you can stay healthier by making sure you’re moving throughout the day. Even tasks like cleaning the house, doing dishes, or light walks will add up over time.
Set alarms every half hour to an hour to remind yourself to get up and do something. The alarm can snap you out of absent-minded phone checking or TV watching so that you do something more productive. You’ll find that you get more done and get healthier this way.
Stretch and move
Do some light stretches every hour that you sit, even if it’s from your chair. You can find a free seated stretching program in Pacer’s guided workouts, but you can also just get your body moving and shake your arms and neck out a bit. You may find yourself motivated to take some steps as well.
Move at least 2 minutes every hour
Get up and walk for 2-5 minutes every hour to help dispel the negative effects of sitting. This can be as simple as pacing around your home or moving around the office. If you’re not able to take breaks easily because of your job, try to move however you can. You may be able to walk in place, pace around, or do a more vigorous stretching routine. You won’t burn as many calories as a fitness walk, but you’ll get your heart pumping and muscles and joints active.
If you haven’t downloaded the Pacer app yet, download Pacer now for free (on mobile)! You can also check out our website (mobile or desktop) or follow our blog for more great walking and healthy lifestyle tips.