Sit less, move more: New physical activity guidelines

February 7, 2014 by Fron Jackson-Webb, The Conversation
If you’ve been sitting for an hour, you’ve been sitting for too long. Credit:

Australians should aim for around 60 minutes of physical activity per day, double the previous recommendation, according the new national physical activity guidelines, published today.

And for the first time, the guidelines urge the 12 million Australians who are sedentary or have low levels of physical activity to limit the time they spend sitting.

The recommendations aim to prevent unhealthy weight gain and reduce the risk of some cancers. Physical inactivity is the second-greatest contributor to the nation's cancer burden, behind smoking.

The guidelines emphasise that doing any physical activity is better than doing none, but ideally adults will get 150 minutes of each week. This includes , recreational swimming, dancing and household tasks such as raking leaves.

This could be swapped for 75 minutes of high-intensity exercise that makes you "huff and puff", such as jogging, aerobics, fast cycling and many organised sports. Ten minutes of vigorous exercise equals moderate-intensity activity.

The guidelines also recommend including muscle-strengthening activities at least two times a week. This could be achieved by going to the gym and using free weights or resistance exercise machines.

"But it also includes things like going to the store and carrying your shopping bags," said Jannique van Uffelen, senior research fellow in active living at Victoria University. "It's anything where you've got repeated stimuli with increasing weight or resistance for your muscles so they become stronger."

Baker IDI's laboratory head of physical activity David Dunstan said he was heartened to see the recommendations emphasise the health harms of prolonged sitting, for which there has been growing evidence over the past decade.

"For many people, sitting occupies a lot of their time. We need to be encouraging people to avoid long periods of sitting and break up sitting throughout the day," he said.

"If you've been sitting for an hour, you've been sitting for too long. We should be aiming to break up sitting times with light-intensity activity one to two times per hour."

The other major change to the guidelines is the inclusion of muscle strengthening activity, Associate Professor Dunstan said, and the acknowledgement that while brisk walking will improve heart fitness, it will not necessarily improve muscle strength.

"What happens is as we hit the age of 45, we start to lose our and that's accelerated once we get past 65," he said. "As we lose our muscle mass, we lose our muscle strength, which is an important part of our daily lives."

Dr van Uffelen said the guidelines were "thorough and comprehensive" and based on the latest international evidence. But with just 43% of Australians meeting the previous target of 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity on most days of the week, many people found it difficult to work the recommendations into their day-to-day life.

"We live in a society where it's often easier to jump in a car than to go for a walk or to get to places on your bike," Dr van Uffelen said.

Governments must "make it easier for people to choose the active option, instead of the passive option – for example, good infrastructure for active transport," she said.

Kids' activity

The guidelines recommend children aged five to 12 accumulate at least 60 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity each day and include activities that strengthen the muscles and bones three days per week.

"We're not suggesting that young children go out and start lifting weights," said Alfred Deakin Professor at Deakin University Jo Salmon, who co-authored the scientific review and recommendations for children.

"Strength training activities include running, jumping, skipping, sports like netball or basketball – anything that involves being on your feet and running around. Even hanging from the monkey bars, you're holding their own body weight," she said.

"This is based on evidence around strength training for optimising bone health for kids – that's really going to see them have much less chance of developing osteoporosis in adulthood. Childhood is really a key period for laying down healthy bones."

The guidelines also emphasise the importance of reducing the time children spend sitting. And it's not just to promote physical health, Professor Salmon said, emerging evidence shows prolonged sitting affects cognitive development and educational outcomes.

Teachers can play a part by delivering standing lessons, she said, by delivering standing lessons, getting children up during class, giving active homework and encouraging students to complete their homework while standing.

"The other major part of sitting for a lot kids and adolescents is sitting in a car. So if you can promote active transport and even public transport and walking to school, you're going to reduce the time in transit," Professor Salmon said.

Explore further: Study links moderate activity to lower breast cancer risk

Related Stories

Study links moderate activity to lower breast cancer risk

October 4, 2013
A large new American Cancer Society study adds to increasing evidence that physical activity reduces the risk of breast cancer in postmenopausal women. Researchers say moderate recreational activity was associated with a ...

Even physically active women sit too much

October 31, 2012
Women who exercise regularly spend as much time sitting as women who don't, according to a new Northwestern Medicine study.

Even low-intensity activity shows benefits for health, study shows

January 22, 2014
A newly published study looking at activity trends and outcomes among American adults found that you don't need to kill yourself by running 10 miles a day to gain health benefits – you merely need to log more minutes of ...

Exercising more, sitting less reduces heart failure risk in men

January 21, 2014
Sitting for long periods increases heart failure risk in men, even for those who exercise regularly, according to new research published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation: Heart Failure.

Vigorous workouts give more bang for buck

November 15, 2013
A one hour high-intensity workout provides the same fitness benefits as 50 hours of walking, a major Flinders University study has found.

Take a stand and be active to reduce chronic disease, make aging easier, research finds

January 15, 2014
People who decrease sitting time and increase physical activity have a lower risk of chronic disease, according to Kansas State University research.

Recommended for you

Dog walking could be key to ensuring activity in later life

July 24, 2017
A new study has shown that regularly walking a dog boosts levels of physical activity in older people, especially during the winter.

Alcohol to claim 63,000 lives over next five years, experts warn

July 24, 2017
Alcohol consumption will cause 63,000 deaths in England over the next five years – the equivalent of 35 deaths a day – according to a new report from the University of Sheffield Alcohol Research Group.

App lets patients work alone or with others to prevent, monitor, and reverse chronic disease

July 24, 2017
Lack of patient adherence to treatment plans is a lingering, costly problem in the United States. But MIT Media Lab spinout Twine Health is proving that regular interventions from a patient's community of supporters can greatly ...

Alcohol boosts recall of earlier learning

July 24, 2017
Drinking alcohol improves memory for information learned before the drinking episode began, new research suggests.

To combat teen smoking, health experts recommend R ratings for movies that depict tobacco use

July 21, 2017
Public health experts have an unusual suggestion for reducing teen smoking: Give just about any movie that depicts tobacco use an automatic R rating.

High-fat diet in pregnancy can cause mental health problems in offspring

July 21, 2017
A high-fat diet not only creates health problems for expectant mothers, but new research in an animal model suggests it alters the development of the brain and endocrine system of their offspring and has a long-term impact ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.