If you think squeezing an hour of exercise in per day can't come close to making up for the other 23 hours when you're relatively sedentary—and so you don't bother at all—rethink that strategy. A study by Cambridge University and the Norwegian School of Sports Sciences published in the Lancet journal finds that even if you're sitting in front of a computer monitor or watching soap operas during the 9-to-5, just one hour of physical activity could nix the increased death risk, per a press release. The findings support a University of Leicester study done earlier this year that found regular exercise can fend off the detrimental effects of daylong sitting sessions, including increased risk of diabetes, certain cancers, and heart disease. "Our message is a positive one: It is possible to reduce—or even eliminate—these risks if we are active enough, even without having to take up sports or go to the gym," Ulf Ekelund, the study's lead author, says.
Researchers examined data from 1 million people from 16 studies, dividing them into four groups based on activity level, from less than five minutes a day up to 60 to 75 minutes per day; activities included such exercise as brisk walking at around 3.5mph or leisurely cycling at 10mph. Those who were physically active had a significantly lower risk of death than those who kept up their couch potato habits. And those who put in a minimum of one hour a day of exercise got rid of the risk altogether from sitting for eight hours. That means even if you can't put in the full hour to wipe the slate clean, you'll still derive some benefit from even a bit of exercise, scientists say. Gizmodo notes it's no happy accident that this new study, part of a four-paper series, is emerging right on the eve of the Summer Olympics: It examines how much progress has been made since a Lancet series from four years ago that said lack of exercise was a "global pandemic" that contributed to the deaths of 5.3 million people annually. (Ten thousand steps a day might not be the magic number for fitness.)