Five million deaths a year are linked to lack of physical activity
Office workers must exercise for one hour a day to combat the harmful effects of sitting at their desks, according to a study published in The Lancet.
Research of more than one million adults found that sitting for at least eight hours a day could increase the risk of premature death by up to 60%.
Scientists said sedentary lifestyles are now posing as great a threat to public health as smoking and are causing more deaths than obesity.
Globally, more than five million deaths a year are linked to physical inactivity.
They said anyone spending hours at their desk should change their daily routine to take a five minute break every hour, as well as exercise at lunchtimes and evenings.
An hour of brisk walking or cycling spread over a day is enough to combat the dangers of eight hours sitting in the office, the research found.
Public health advice in the UK recommends just half this level of activity, but almost half of women and one third of men fail to achieve even this, the Telegraph news report said.
Lead scientist Professor Ulf Ekelund, from Cambridge University and the Norwegian School of Sports Sciences, said: “You don’t need to do sport, you don’t need to go to the gym, it’s ok doing some brisk walking maybe in the morning, during your lunchtime, after dinner in the evening. You can split it up over the day but you need to do at least one hour.”
The researchers called for changes in government policies, such as placing bus stops further apart to force people to walk longer to and from them, closing streets to cars at weekends to encourage more sports and exercise, and opening free public gyms in parks.
Fellow researcher Dr Pedro Hallal, from the Federal University of Pelotas in Brazil, said the combination of sitting too much all day and too little activity is deadly.
Employers need to make it easier for workers to take more exercise, providing showers and gyms, and encouraging longer breaks, the study said.
In the study, participants, mostly aged over 45, were classed by their levels of physical activity – from up to five minutes a day to more than an hour – and by the amount of time spent seated.
This was compared with death rates over up to 18 years among the adults, who came from Western Europe, Australia and the US.
Among those who sat for at least eight hours daily and managed less than five minutes’ activity, mortality rates were 9.9%.
Those who spent just as long seated, but managed at least an hour’s exercise, saw death rates drop to 6.2%.
Cancer and heart disease were the two most likely causes of death linked to inactivity.
The research, from 16 studies, is among four papers published in The Lancet ahead of the Olympic Games in Brazil.
Research from insurer Vitality suggests 150 minutes of exercise a week – just over 21 minutes a day – boosts life expectancy by 3.1 years.