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Can you be active and still a couch potato?

All those spinning classes, Zumba workouts and morning runs mean squat if you sit on your rear the rest of the time, The New York Times reports.

Finns wearing electrode-laden shorts have proven it's so.

Researchers from the University of Jyvaskyla in Finland enlisted healthy volunteers to wear the special shorts, which measured muscle activity, throughout their daily lives.

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The volunteers alternated days working out – lifting weights, playing soccer, running or Nordic walking – and not exercising. All the while, electrodes in the shorts measured contractile activity in their quadriceps and hamstring muscles.

The researchers expected to see much less muscle inertia on the days volunteers exercised. But instead they discovered that on workout days, the volunteers spent 68 per cent of their waking hours sitting, compared with 72 per cent (about nine hours of sitting) on non-exercise days.

The volunteers likely rewarded themselves with extra downtime after exercising, the researchers concluded.

That may not seem like a big deal. After all, the study participants burned calories and got their heart rates up for an average of 83 minutes every other day.

The trouble is that sitting has surfaced as a major public health enemy.

In a study published last month in the Archives of Internal Medicine, Australian researchers found that people who sat for more than eight hours a day – typical for Americans – had a 15 per cent greater risk of premature death than people who spent less than four hours a day on their butts.

The study, which involved 220,0000 Australian adults aged 45 and up, concluded that "prolonged sitting is a risk factor for all-cause mortality, independent of physical activity."

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Researchers recommend increasing physical activity outside of regular workouts.

Even desk jockeys can find ways to sit less, according to Mark Tremblay, an obesity and activity researcher at Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa. Frequent bathroom breaks are a start, he told Reuters.

Co-workers may wonder if you have a urinary tract infection, but at least you'll be healthier at the end of the day.

Have you found new ways to spend less time sitting?

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About the Author

Adriana Barton is based in The Globe and Mail’s Vancouver bureau. Her article on growing up with counterculture parents is published in a McGraw-Hill anthology, right after an essay by Margaret Atwood. She wishes her last name didn’t start with B. More

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