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The Easiest Way to Stay Fit Right Now, Say Experts

Here's how to fight off the health dangers of staying at home all day, per a new study.

This year, with so many of us working remotely and staying indoors thanks to COVID-19, it's easy to slip into a routine that could be seriously hurting your health. A sedentary lifestyle can endanger your immune system, raise your blood pressure, and even dramatically raise your cancer risk. The good news is, researchers have determined the amount of time and activity you need to counteract the risks of sitting around all day—about 35 minutes of daily exercise will keep you healthy, even if you're spending the rest of the day in a chair or on your couch. 

A recent study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine examines how different combinations of sedentary time and physical activity affect mortality. The study found that 30 to 40 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous-intensity physical activity (MVPA) is enough to basically eliminate the association between sedentary time and risk of death. So that means that if you're exercising 30 to 40 minutes a day—which is less time than the researchers had guessed—then it doesn't matter whether you're sitting around for most of the day or not. As long as you get in that spurt of exercise, it's not going to affect your health. (Looking for some easy ways to get a move on? Check out these 15 Underrated Weight Loss Tricks That Actually Work.)

Making sure you're getting your daily MVPA may be easier than you think—according to the CDC's guidelines, brisk walking counts as moderate activity, as does gardening, scrubbing the floor, and "handling uncooperative young children." Vigorous activity, meanwhile, includes jogging, jujitsu, square dancing, and "carrying an adult or a child weighing 25 lbs or more up a flight of stairs." Lots of options (some more practical than others).

The study, conducted by a team of international researchers from top universities including Cambridge, Columbia, and Harvard, was published in conjunction with the release of the WHO 2020 Guidelines on physical activity and sedentary behavior, which advise that every week, adults 18-64 should "do at least 150–300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity; or at least 75–150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity; or an equivalent combination."

So tomorrow, if you find yourself sitting around all day, just be sure to make time for your requisite 30 minutes of carrying your spouse up the stairs. Or, if you want a lockdown workout that doesn't involve person-carrying, square dancing, or jujitsu, check out these tips for getting in a gym-worthy workout using only objects that you already have in your kitchen.

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Clara Olshansky
Clara Olshansky (they/she) is a Brooklyn-based writer and comic whose web content has appeared in Food & Wine, Harper’s Magazine, Men's Health, and Reductress. Read more about Clara