Over the course of human history, we’ve never been as sedentary as we are right now. And scientists say it could be killing us.
Sitting more than eight hours a day without any added physical activity puts your risk of death at levels similar to obesity and smoking. Meanwhile, sedentary jobs in the US have increased 83% since 1950, and physically active jobs now make up less than 20% of the US workforce.
Modern life has become an evolutionary mismatch for the movement-heavy lifestyle our bodies need to stay healthy. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors had to move to do just about everything, so human physiology evolved to require constant movement. But today, we commute in cars, work at desks, and order our meals via smartphone apps.
In other words: our bodies require movement, but our modern world of convenience doesn’t.
To address this dilemma, we’re told to exercise more. US physical activity guidelines call for 150 minutes per week for adults, or 30 minutes five days a week. But even if you do work out for 30 minutes a day, that still means you’re staying relatively still 98% of the time.
The movement movement
Enter the “movement movement,” a way of framing fitness not by how much we exercise, but instead by how little we move.
Studies show that exercise doesn’t undo the harmful effects of sitting for hours on end and we need to move more throughout the day for good physiological health. If we focused simply on not being sedentary for the majority of our lives, maybe we wouldn’t need high-intensity, aerobic exercise or trendy fitness routines.
We’re primed to think of high-intensity activities like running as the healthiest way to move. But a long walk means moving for 2 or 3 hours vs 30 minutes. Why choose less overall movement?
Quartz News traveled to upstate Washington to meet Katy Bowman, a biomechanist and author. Katy argues that everything from the way you put away your dishes to how you choose to sit can help you stack more movement into your life. The key is understanding the choices we make every day to minimize overall movement.
Research shows that breaking up your day with small bursts of movement can reduce your risk of early death by up to 35%. “With exercise, we seem to only value long-duration, big, intense,” Katy says. “We no longer see the value in small, slow, accumulating.”
Watch the video above to learn more about the movement movement and why we need to reframe the very idea of exercise—from rote and repetitious to natural and continuous—to turn our small choices into an aggregate habit.
Quartz News is a weekly video series bringing you in-depth reporting from around the world. Each episode investigates one story, breaking down the often unseen economic and technological forces shaping our future.
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