Get Off the Couch! Even Light Exercise Has Health Benefits

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Light-intensity activities that get you off the couch may be beneficial to your health, even if you don't work up a sweat, a new study suggests.

People in the study who spent more time moving around than sitting during the day generally had favorable insulin and triglyceride (blood fat) levels, even if they did not do the amount of exercise that national guidelines recommend.

"These findings demonstrate the importance of minimizing sedentary activities, and replacing some of them with light-intensity activities, such as pacing back and forth when on the phone, standing at your desk periodically instead of sitting and having walking meetings instead of sit-down meetings," study researcher Paul Loprinzi, an assistant professor at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky., said in a statement. [How Many Calories Am I Burning? (Infographic)]

Other light activities that can reduce sedentary time include leisurely biking, playing Wii Fit, sitting on a balance ball, playing a musical instrument and gardening.

Although these light exercises may not be as beneficial to your health as vigorous activities are, they are still "much better than lying on the couch, watching TV," said study researcher Bradley Cardinal, co-director of the Sport and Exercise Psychology Program at Oregon State University.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that adults do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (such as brisk walking) per week, or 75 minutes of vigorous activity such as running or swimming laps.

In the study, the researchers analyzed information from more than 5,500 U.S. adults who wore accelerometers to record their movements.

About half of participants engaged in less than 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity a week, and spent more time sitting than performing light-intensity activities.

Other recent studies have found that too much time sitting is linked with an increased risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes, as well as breast and colon cancers.

The new study was published online Dec. 25 in the journal Preventive Medicine.

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Rachael Rettner

Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.