The Balance Between Exercise and Sedentary Habits

Figure 1-3: Relationship Among Moderate-to-Vigorous Physical Activity, Sitting Time, and Risk of All-Cause Mortality in Adults

Today we are faced with a new public health crisis. It is not an infectious disease, but something far more mundane: our sedentary lifestyles.

Recent studies have indicated that American children and adults spend a staggering 7.7 hours a day being sedentary. These statistics have ignited concerns and the 2018 Advisory Committee has found a strong correlation between sedentary behavior and the risk of all-cause mortality.

The US Department of Health and Human Services has gathered research to inform adults and youths about how often sedentary periods should be punctuated with physical activity.

One of the most compelling findings is graphically illustrated by a heat map, that illustrates the relationship between sedentary behavior (sitting time) and moderate-to-vigorous physical activity. As physical activity increases and sitting time decreases, the risk of all-cause mortality decreases. And though the recommended 60 to 75 minutes per day of moderate-intensity activities, or 30 to 40 minutes per day of vigorous-intensity activities can lower the risk of sitting, the high-volume of activity is only achieved by a fraction of the population.

Dr. Anne Friedlander, a Professor at Stanford University and the Associate Director of Stanford Lifestyle Medicine, further elucidates the figure’s message:

“Prolonged, continuous sitting is associated with increased risk for many chronic diseases. It’s important to note that even if you meet the guidelines for regular physical activity, sitting for the rest of the day can reduce the benefits that you get from that activity. Thus, it is important to move throughout the day regardless of your exercise routine!” – Dr. Anne Friedlander

Moreover, our team at Stanford Lifestyle Medicine has up come with potential recommendations and tools for a healthier lifestyle. Aim to interrupt sitting 3-5 times a day with moderate to vigorous movement such as:

  • Use a wearable device that logs movement and inspires you to move regularly
  • Set a timer on your computer to get up and move
  • Use a restroom on a different floor to get some brisk stair climbing in
  • Walking briskly down the hall to talk to coworkers instead of sending an email
  • Get a pet companion who encourages you to move more!

In our increasingly sedentary society, the research offers a clear call to arms, or rather, legs: To neutralize the ticking bomb of sedentary living, it’s time for America to stand up, take action, and perhaps, take a walk. Are we ready to rise to the challenge?

By: Helena Zhang, BS & Anne Friedlander, PhD


  1. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans 2nd edition