Millions of people sit for hours each day as part of their job, a practice experts liken to smoking in terms of the negative health impact it has. But new research shows regular exercise can counter the harmful behavior.

The study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, revealed that 30 to 40 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity a day can undo the impact of a sedentary workday and extend your life.

The researchers analyzed results from nine other studies documenting activity levels of almost 45,000 people in four countries. They concluded that moderate to vigorous activity was inversely connected with risk of death for those leading a sedentary life.

“An increased amount of sitting is linked to health risks such as cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, obesity and other chronic conditions,” said Lisa Murawski, an exercise physiologist at the Southington Care Center, part of Hartford HealthCare Rehabilitation Network.

Incorporating any sort of exercise during the day, she agreed, can balance the effects of sitting by increasing overall activity levels.

“Unfortunately, society is spending an increased amount of time sitting due to lifestyle changes, desk jobs, working from home, transportation and using technology,” Murawski said.

Reminders to get up and move can help, and she suggested setting a timer on your phone to go off every 30 to 45 minutes. That’s a signal to get up and move or stretch, breaking up the amount of time spent sitting.

Murawski also said the “moderate to vigorous activity” recommended – which echoes World Health Organization directives that people of all ages increase physical activity – can be creative or fun.

“It can really include any type of exercise that will get your heart rate up,” she said.

Options include:

  • Tennis.
  • Swimming.
  • Brisk walking or jogging.
  • Everyday activities like mowing the lawn with a push mower, shoveling snow, heavy cleaning such as mopping or washing windows.

If 30 minutes a day seems too ambitious with your schedule, Murawski suggested starting slow and establishing a routine.

“Any increase in physical activity can have health benefits. Try going for a walk every day right after breakfast. It’s best to begin with something you know you can commit to and building from there,” she noted.

Other healthful habits include parking further away from a store, exercising during commercial breaks, and taking stairs instead of the elevator.

“Studies say exercise can slow the aging process. It certainly improves cardiovascular health, burns calories to help maintain a healthy weight, lowers blood pressure, keeps bones and joints healthy, and keeps muscles strong,” Murawski said. “Any of these benefits can help with extending one’s life.”