How Much Should I Exercise With a Sedentary Job?

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An office worker is sitting at her desk. (Image: Todd Warnock/Digital Vision/Getty Images)

For men and women with sedentary jobs, regular exercise is crucial to staying trim and preventing diseases. A sedentary job is defined as one in which you are seated and not moving for the vast majority of the workday. Sedentary people may need to work harder than those with active jobs to get enough exercise and find time for physical activity. Be sure to check with your doctor before beginning an exercise program.

Exercise Recommendations

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines suggest that adults between the ages of 18 and 64 perform at least two hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or at least one hour and 15 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity each week, in addition to strength training twice per week to target each major muscle group. Those seeking additional health benefits should aim for more cardiovascular exercise, performing five hours of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, two hours and 30 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, or a combination of the two each week.

Examples of Aerobic Activity

Examples of moderate-intensity aerobic activity include brisk walking, mowing the lawn and biking on level ground. Jogging or running, swimming and fast-paced or hilly biking all count as vigorous-intensity aerobic activity. This much exercise may seem overwhelming to a beginner, but it amounts to a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 15 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity five days per week plus two days of strength training.

Sedentary People May Still Be At Risk

While meeting exercise guidelines can help prevent weight gain and cut your risk of numerous diseases, a June 2011 study cosponsored by the National Cancer Institute and the American Association for Retired Persons and presented at the American College of Sports Medicine 58th Annual Meeting suggests that even getting “enough” exercise can’t undo the full damage of sedentary jobs. The study reveals that regular physical activity is not enough to prevent the health risks caused by prolonged periods of inactivity. According to the study, even regular exercisers are at a higher risk of early mortality when they habitually spend prolonged periods of time inactive, as in sitting at a desk or watching television. This new research suggests that making small changes to increase activity at work is crucial to overall health.

Adding Activity to the Workday

To cut your risk of health problems such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease, plan short activity breaks into your workday. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a minimum of 10 minutes of moderate- or vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise is enough to get your heart pumping and burn calories, so aim for at least three 10-minute walking breaks during the day. Eat a healthy lunch at your desk, then take a brisk walk or hit the gym on your lunch break to get your body moving. Instead of using the phone or email to talk to coworkers, walk to their desks instead.

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