Sitting for more than 13 hours a day could undo the benefits of exercise, study finds

Prolonged sitting and fewer than 4,000 steps can impact metabolism

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Sitting at a desk all day could undo all the hard work you put in at the gym, claims a new study.

Researchers at the University of Texas found that people who sit for up to 13 hours a day and take fewer than 4,000 steps on average were more likely to develop problems with their metabolism – even if they exercise.

The study, published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, asked 10 fit and healthy participants to spend 13 hours a day sat down, limiting their steps to no more than 4,000, for a period of four days. At the end of those four days, participants were given a high-sugar, ice-cream drink, before scientists monitored how their metabolisms handled the food.

They repeated the experiment with the same participants, but at the end of the next four-day period, they instead took part in an hour of vigorous exercise, before returning the following morning to eat the same sugary breakfast and to have their vitals checked again.

Researchers found that despite the physical activity, participants displayed the same high levels of triglycerides, blood sugar and low insulin sensitivity as they did after four days without working out.

The results suggest that staying still for extended periods of time may create conditions within our bodies that “make us resistant to the usual metabolic improvements after acute exercise”, Dr Edward Coyle, professor of kinesiology and lead author of the study, says.

Effectively, the results show that despite regular exercise, long levels of inactivity, such as sitting at a desk all day for work, could limit the benefit any activity you do take part in has on your metabolism.

While the study was only carried out on a small, active group of participants, Coyle adds that it is a “very good idea not to sit all day”, and plans to research the matter more with his team.