It should come as no surprise to anyone that active people generally enjoy greater health and longevity than couch potatoes, but a recent study of nearly 4,000 Swedish seniors suggests that sitting may actually be actively harmful. The good news, according to the same study, is that “activity” does not have to mean “exercise.”


Most previous studies have focused on the benefits of exercise while ignoring activities that many people pursue in the course of their daily lives. These activities, such as gardening, home repair, camping, and other recreational undertakings, can actually be more important to senior citizens’ health than a trip to the gym or a five-mile run. This is because leisure-time activities keep people off the couch longer than most exercise sessions, and the less time spent sitting, according to the study, the greater the health and longevity benefits.


Why is sitting so harmful? “While sitting, muscles do not contract and blood flow decreases, which reduces the efficiency of many body processes, like absorbing glucose from the blood,” according to David Dunstan, of the Baker IDI Heart & Diabetes Institute in Melbourne, Australia.


All of this is not to say that exercise is not important. “Moderate-to-vigorous exercise helps strengthen the heart muscle and other body muscles, and may help regulate blood pressure more than general activity,” Dunstan said.


While exercise is still an important part of staying healthy, the message of the study is clear: move more, sit less. Get off the couch and back away from the computer desk.