The perils of sedentary behavior may be fought off simply by being fit enough, suggests a new study published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

Researchers examined data from an earlier five-year-long clinical trial called the Generation 100 Study. Specifically looking at around 400 Norwegian adults over the age of 70 without any pre-existing cardiovascular disease, they found that about one-third of men and women were at risk of developing heart issues. And for each hour of sedentary time reported, their chances of becoming high-risk rose by 22 percent and 27 percent for women and men, respectively. However, the researchers found that having a high level of cardiovascular fitness for their age reduced these effects — even if the person in question wasn’t doing much physical activity at the time.

"Our Western lifestyles necessarily involve a lot of sitting, and we spend more and more time sitting on average as we age," said lead author Dr. Silvana Sandbakk in a statement. "But our findings show that being fit plays an important part in successful ageing and may lend protection against the negative health effects of being sedentary."

As part of the study, Generation 100 participants were outfitted with trackers to measure their standard activity level over a week’s course, while their fitness was measured via a treadmill test. Overall, the negating effects of fitness on sedentary behavior were seen among the most fit 40 percent of participants, even while the most fit reported 12 to 13 hours of sitting a day on average. Interestingly, volunteers who met the criteria for moderate to vigorous physical activity but who weren’t fit didn’t experience the buffer effect, suggesting not all kinds of exercise are the same.

“Our results indicate that the recommendations for physical activity should focus on activities that increase cardiovascular fitness,” the authors said, “and future research should have a particular focus on behavioral strategies to increase cardiovascular fitness, the underlying mechanisms of cardiovascular fitness, and their subsequent effects on cardiovascular disease risk reduction."

The debate over whether it’s possible to reliably mitigate the worst harms of sedentary behavior has been ongoing for some time. More recently, a review in The Lancet published earlier this July found that even one hour of exercise a day would wipe the slate clean when it came to the connection between sitting too much and an early grave, though not for those who watched TV five hours or more a day.

Source: Sandbakk S, Nauman J, Zisko N, et al. Sedentary Time, Cardiorespiratory Fitness, and Cardiovascular Risk Factor Clustering in Older Adults--the Generation 100 Study. Mayo Clinic Proceedings. 2016.