#241 The 30 Minute Rule for Longevity

The 30 Minute Rule for Longevity

The 30-minute rule for longevity may be the most critical factor in determining who stays young and who gets old.  In this article, I will share with you what the 30-minute rule for longevity is and the latest research backing up this rule.

The 30 Minute Rule for Longevity Study

Dr. Keith M. Diaz from Columbia University in New York City recently published his findings on the 30-minute rule for longevity after studying 7,985 people age 45 or older.  Now, he didn’t explicitly call this the 30-minute rule for longevity, but that is what he found.

In this study, Dr. Diaz strapped accelerometers to these 7,985 people for one week.  He also performed many other health tests for these people.  After gathering all of this data, he then sat back and watched to see who was still alive and doing well four years later.

Results of the 30 Minute Rule for Longevity Study

After waiting four years, here is what Dr. Diaz observed in this study.

1. The more you move, the longer you live.

He found that it didn’t matter your age or how much you weighed, those who moved the most were the ones alive and well four years later. No surprise here with this finding as many other studies have shown similar results.

2. Going to the gym faithfully every day can’t save you from sitting.

Sitting more than 12.5 hours a day, regardless of whether you work out or not, puts you at high risk of an early death.  While 12.5 hours of sitting might sound like a lot, it isn’t for most people.

Many of my patients are surprised to see how long they are sitting each day once they start tracking it with a smartphone, smartwatch, or Fitbit.  For example, eight hours at work on a computer, driving to the gym and your work, and one television show at night could quickly get you to 12.5 hours of sitting.

3. Sitting for more than 30 minutes at any time put you at risk for an early death.

Interestingly, the most fidgety people in this study lived the longest.  In other words, those who couldn’t sit still lived far longer than those who could sit in their chairs.

This is the basis of the 30-minute rule for longevity. If you want to live a long and healthy life you can’t sit for more than 30 minutes at a time.

Is Sitting the New Smoking?

Today, I’ve become convinced that sitting is the new smoking. And by some calculations, in fact, it might be even worse.

By just comparing the life expectancy of smokers with that of non-smokers, then subdividing the difference by the average number of cigarettes a smoker will consume over a lifetime, one study noted that each cigarette reduces one’s lifespan by an average of 11 minutes.

Using similar methods, a different study computed the difference in life expectancy between heavy TV watchers (sitters) and those who watch no TV at all (non-sitters), and concluded that every hour of TV watching after the age of 25 reduces one’s lifespan by 22 minutes!

Yes, according to these estimates, both of which are admittedly crude, an hour of sitting down is as bad for you as two cigarettes!  The way I see it, then, if you’re going to sit down, it really should be for a compelling reason.

Even at the cellular level sitting is toxic for your health.  Indeed, one study showed that sitting prematurely ages your cells by ten years!

Of course, correlation is not causation and untold other life choices that are shared among those who tend to sit for periods of time longer than 30 minutes.  The overwhelming scientific evidence, though, tells us that any sort of prolonged sitting is simply bad for us.  Studies show that even cancer rates skyrocket for sitters.

The Benefits of Fidgeting

In the past, fidgeting was a bad thing. Indeed, children who fidget at school are often inappropriately labeled by teachers as having ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).

I want to challenge you to look at fidgeting as a good thing.  Perhaps we should all fidget a little more.

For example, we have known for nearly 70 years that people who fidget a lot tend to be much leaner than those who can sit in their chairs without moving.  For example, Mayo Clinic researcher, Dr. James Levine, has shown in studies that even fidgeting in your seat can burn hundreds of extra calories over the course of the day.  Even better is that if these people also get out of their chairs then, according to his studies, they can burn far more calories.

Fidgeting doesn’t just save you from obesity.  It may also protect your heart and allow you to live much longer.  Indeed, a recently published study of 12,778 people showed that they only thing that saved sitters from a premature death was fidgeting.

Practical Tips

I really believe that, in just a few generations, we’ll be looking back in disgust at how much time our current society spends sitting down. Yet even though there is little that can be done sitting that can’t be done standing, most of us have yet to take a stand.

If you are a student right now, I’d love to see you take a stand by asking your teachers, school administrators or student government to consider how to integrate more opportunities to stand up in the classroom. If you work in an office, bring a milk carton to work and prop up your computer on it, then take a stand by encouraging others to do the same and talking to your employer about purchasing desks that are conducive to standing workers. One place where many of us sit where standing could be beneficial, and even spiritually enlightening, is church; you can take a stand by talking to your religious leaders about whether “standing services” might be an appropriate way to worship.

The very first place, though, that you should take a stand is in your own home. If you have a living room that is really more of a sitting room, then you can take a stand by making it a place where you’re actually engaged in the practice of living. Push back the couch, or get rid of it altogether. Add a treadmill, an exercise bike, a space for yoga or even some free weights. Turn your floor into a putting green. Anything that you can do to get off your backside and onto your feet is a tremendous step forward.

If you simply can’t do any of the above tips then at the very least set your smartphone, smartwatch, or even an old-fashioned timer to remind you to get up every 30 minutes or fidget in your seat.  Just standing and taking a few steps every 30 minutes, or wiggling in your chair, may be all you need to do in order to live a long and healthy life free of disease.

Next Steps

What is your take on the 30-minute rule for longevity?  Please leave your thoughts and questions below.  While the question and comment period are open for the next 30 days, I will answer every item posted.

If you liked this article, please be sure to read my book, The Longevity Plan, or sign up for my free weekly newsletter.  Also, if reading is not your thing you can subscribe to my podcast where I read this blog for you every week.

Of course, if you aren’t physically active, then please consult with your doctor first before increasing your physical activity.  Nothing in this article is medical advice.  I only share general medical information.  Remember, you are the only person responsible for your medical decisions.


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Disclaimer Policy: This website is intended to give general information and does not provide medical advice. This website does not create a doctor-patient relationship between you and Dr. John Day. If you have a medical problem, immediately contact your healthcare provider. Information on this website is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition. Dr. John Day is not responsible for any losses, damages or claims that may result from your medical decisions.

  1. On a scale of 1 to 10, how does getting up from the couch and just standing rank with getting up, standing and participating in some type of activity?


    • Hi Bob,

      Great question. Certainly, dropping down and doing 20 push ups ever 30 minutes would be much preferable to just standing. However, dropping down and doing push ups isn’t practical or enjoyable for most people.

      I think the key is to at least get in the habit of getting up and moving every 30 minutes.

      Hope this helps!


  2. What do you think about knitting? Would you consider that fidgeting (my Apple Watch sure does 😉 It does require a lot of sitting to knit – in days gone by women knit things on the go – but I just can’t imagine walking and knitting!

    • Hi Barbi,

      You are correct, the accelerometer in your Apple watch is probably giving you “extra credit” for knitting! If you enjoy knitting then I would just suggest getting up and moving around every 30 minutes or so…Fortunately, your Apple Watch can help to remind you…

      Hope this helps!


    • Hi Terry,

      I have also come across this same argument. The key is to use as many of your muscles as possible throughout the day. To that end, getting up every 30 minutes would be far preferable than just sitting all day long.

      Hope this helps!