GRETCHEN REYNOLDS

The New York Times News Service

Published Wednesday, Apr. 06, 2016 3:22PM EDT

Last updated Wednesday, Apr. 06, 2016 3:23PM EDT

walkingQuestion

My activity tracker has 5,000 daily steps as its baseline. Is anything less considered “sedentary”?

Answer

Your simple question requires a surprisingly complicated answer, because steps, by definition, cannot be sedentary. Walking is a physical activity, whether you take two steps in a day or 20,000. So sedentary status cannot be defined by how many or few daily steps you manage. It depends, instead, on how much you lounge.

“Physical activity and sedentary behaviour are best considered as distinct behaviours,” said Russell Pate, a professor of exercise science at the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina in Columbia.

Physical activity involves movement, including standing and strolling. Sedentary behaviour, on the other hand, “includes activities that involve little or no movement,” Pate said, “such as sitting at a computer, lying on the couch, driving, etc.”

Because the two ways of spending time are so different, someone can exercise regularly “and still engage in a great deal of sedentary behaviour,” Pate said, “and I believe that such a pattern is quite common in our current society.”

In other words, you can take 5,000 steps in a day or 10,000, meaning that you would cover either about 4 or 8 kilometres. But in both cases, if you concentrate those steps into a single session of exercise and then spend the rest of your waking hours slumped in a desk chair or in front of a television, you will be more sedentary than active.

Such long bouts of sitting are associated with multiple health concerns, including increased risks for weight gain, diabetes, cholesterol problems and premature death, even if you exercise.

Ideally, activity monitors would goose you to avoid being sedentary. But many of today’s monitors are better at tracking and encouraging physical activity – by, for instance, counting the number of steps you take and setting step goals – than they are at identifying and warning you about sitting for too long, Pate said.

So if your activity tracker concentrates on step counts, with 5,000 as its minimum goal, then by all means, reach that total and more. But also try to stand up frequently throughout the day, so that you are both physically active and not sedentary.

Credit: Globe and Mail

 

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