Why Intense Exercise May Not Be the Healthiest After All

New research says just hitting the gym is not enough.

New research has found that walking and standing for long periods throughout the day burns more calories than one hour of intense cycling. Photograph courtesy of Shutterstock.

We’re calling it: In ten years, standing desks will be the norm—if we know what’s good for us.

In recent years there have been countless studies published that warn of the health dangers of sitting for long periods of time: sitting cuts years off of our lives. Sitting leads to diabetes. Sitting, well, sucks. Results from the most recent study published on the subject are no different.

The small study, which involved a mix of males and females between the ages of 18 and 30, found that given the choice of one, intense hour of exercise and six hours of standing and walking, the latter produced the best health results.

Participants underwent three different exercise routines: 1) sit for 14 hours a day; 2) cycle intensely for one hour a day; and 3) walk for four hours at a leisurely pace and stand for two hours (or what researchers called “minimal-intensity physical activity”). Throughout the entire study, the participants had to consume the same amount of calories each day.

Researchers found that the number of steps participants walked during the minimal intensity regimen was five to six times higher than the other two. In fact, walking and standing throughout the day burned 73 more calories than did cycling intensely for one hour and mostly sitting the rest of the day. When the participants sat for 14 hours a day, they burned 500 fewer calories.

In addition, walking and standing produced better results for insulin sensitivity, which plays a central role in type 2 diabetes. “One hour of daily physical exercise cannot compensate for the negative effects of inactivity on insulin sensitivity [. . .] if the rest of the day is spent sitting,” the authors wrote.

The lesson? Keep exercising, but stop e-mailing your coworker two doors down and walk over instead.

The full study is available at PLOS One’s website