Sit less, move more. This is a popular refrain to undo the negative effects of a sedentary lifestyle—but perhaps you can’t be as active as you’d like because of age or medical conditions. If this is the case, how do you put that advice into practice?

The recommendation is to do at least 150 minutes of moderate or more vigorous exercise every week. New research involving 2,000 participants, average age 54, from the famed Framingham Heart Study sheds light on what that actually means and the relationship between types of physical activity and a person’s physical fitness. These findings hold true for men and women across all age groups and regardless of obesity or heart disease.

Findings: Reducing sedentary activities by four hours a day…or taking 4,300 more steps a day than you usually take…or doing 17 minutes a day of dedicated moderately vigorous physical activity (a total of 119 minutes per week) all are equivalent in terms of your fitness.

Determine the formula for you: First, assess your current activity level to see where improvement is needed. In the study, the per-day averages used for comparison were 7,737 steps…22 minutes of moderately vigorous physical activity…and 13.5 hours being sedentary. High physical activity was measured as sitting less than 821 minutes a day…taking 7,500 steps or more a day…and doing more than 21 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity every day.

Important: Participants who walked a higher-than-the-average number of steps per day or did moderate/vigorous physical activity had higher-than-average fitness levels regardless of how much time they sat. And those who couldn’t do moderate or vigorous activity still benefited from sitting less and taking additional steps, even at a slow pace.

Three ways to scale up your fitness…

Good: Even if you can’t be as active as you’d like, taking more steps at a moderate pace still can increase your fitness level. Aim to beat the low-exertion rate of 60 to 99 steps per minute.

Better: If you want more benefits and to slow the natural decline that comes with aging, aim for daily moderate or vigorous physical exertion of 21 minutes or more through intentional exercise. This is three times more efficient than just walking at a relatively slow pace and improves the body’s ability to start and sustain lower levels of exertion. The exercise can be walking as long as you get your heart rate up by sustaining a moderate pace of 100 to 129 steps per minute or a vigorous pace of more than 130 steps per minute.

Best: If you want to reach the highest levels of physical fitness, in addition to 21 minutes of daily exercise, reduce the amount of time you sit—that will mean moving more and taking more steps. There’s a linear relationship between amount of activity and fitness level—the more you do, the more results you’ll see. The 150-minute weekly guideline is a good target, but there’s no upper limit.


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