If you refuse to identify as a "couch potato" because of that half-hour workout you diligently slip in each day, despite the fact that you're sedentary for much of the rest of it, you might actually still be a couch potato—just an "active" one. And what that means is you could still be vulnerable to a slew of health issues, say Finnish scientists, who carried out what the Washington Post calls a "sweeping new study" that examined how sedentary behavior can sabotage the good efforts to exercise that people do make. For their research published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, the scientists asked more than 3,700 men and women to wear an activity tracker for one week.
The trackers measured movement (or lack thereof) in six-second increments, and by analyzing this data, the scientists were able to separate their subjects into four groups. About a third of the participants sat for 10 or more hours a day, and rarely got up, though they did squeeze in 30 minutes of moderate exercise—the group's "active couch potatoes." The second group, "sedentary light movers," also worked out for a half-hour daily, but those subjects also engaged in "light activity," such as getting up and walking around, for almost 90 additional minutes. The third group, "sedentary exercisers," rarely moved during the day, but upped their daily exercise to one hour, while the fourth group, called "the movers," exercised for an hour daily and also threw in almost two hours of light activity.
After controlling for smoking, sleep habits, income, and other factors, then also examining the cholesterol, blood sugar control, and body fat percentage of all groups, the study's authors found that the active couch potatoes performed the worst on all fronts. The other groups "were all better off and to about the same extent," per the Post, with about 8% less body fat than the active couch potatoes. In other words, the "less time spent in sedentary," the "better cardiometabolic health" enjoyed by the subjects, the scientists write. The Post notes the study's limitations, including the fact that the subjects were mostly white and from one nation; there also wasn't a control group that featured completely sedentary subjects.
Still, the researchers encourage people to get up and move around throughout the day, even if you think you can't hit the "sweet spot" of 90 minutes of light activity, per Vahid Farrahi, the study's lead author. "Any additional movement should be beneficial," Farrahi says. "The solutions don't have to be intimidating. ... I like to remind myself to go over and just look out the window often." The Eat This, Not That site offers other tips on how to increase your movement to stave off sedentary habits, including going on more walks with your pets, taking breaks from desk work to stroll around, and getting in some steps on the treadmill while watching TV. Even a table-height standing desk could be helpful, as standing expends more energy than sitting. (Read more discoveries stories.)