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To Reduce The Harmful Health Effects Of Sitting, Take A 5-Minute Walk Every Half-Hour

By Andy Corbley -Jan 18, 2023

A study looking to find the bare minimum of physical activity required to prevent the well documented ill effects of continuous sitting determined that 5 minutes of walking every half hour was enough.

By looking at blood sugar levels and blood pressure, two important metrics of heart disease, the scientists were able to determine how much daily movement was required to get back to equilibrium from the negative effects of sitting.

Picture if you will, an office worker. Waking in the morning in time for coffee and perhaps breakfast with perhaps a spouse or perhaps children, the day begins with at least some sitting. Then climbing into one’s car, the office worker drives in a seated position to the office. There, between lunch and desk work, the worker spends 8-9 hours sitting before returning home, sitting in their car. Once home, they likely sit down for dinner, and perhaps a bit of television or reading; both done from the seated position.

Sitting time for adults in industrialized nations has been climbing for decades, and it increases the risk for all the diseases typical of those nations, i.e. type-2 diabetes, cancer, heart disease, stroke, fatty liver disease, etc.

In a new study published in Medicine Science in Sports and Exercise, Keith Diaz et al. asked 11 healthy middle-aged individuals to complete an experiment in which they sat in a lab for 8 hours a day for 5 days to represent a normal workweek.

On some days they sat for the whole 8 hours, only rising for bathroom breaks. On others they were engaged in short bouts of walking with differing regularities to find the lowest amount of movement required to reduce their blood sugar and blood pressure.

“We found that a 5-minute light walk every half-hour was the only strategy that reduced blood sugar levels substantially compared with sitting all day,” Diaz wrote in The Conversation.

“In particular, 5-minute walks every half-hour reduced the blood sugar spike after eating by almost 60%, [and] that strategy also reduced blood pressure by four to five points compared with sitting all day.”

Defining exercise, and time spent in exercise has become a focus of physiologists of late, as recent evidence points out that time spent in movement for work purposes doesn’t confer the protections from the diseases mentioned above the same way exercise does. Where the dividing line between movement for work and movement for exercise sits is not well understood.

Furthermore, multi-day bouts of prolonged sitting creates an “exercise resistance” that can render even something like a 60-minute moderate intensity run meaningless in terms of its improvement for cardio-metabolic health.

This new research offers a concrete guideline for desk workers or office managers to employ, one that doesn’t rely on general guidelines from government agencies like the Dept. of Health and Human Services that simply state “move more, sit less,” or which recommend 150 minutes of moderate to intense physical activity per week, and which don’t address potential solutions for the workplace.

Exercise targets should be set if at all possible at levels to maintain robust muscle mass and cardiovascular strength, since there’s much more to life than just avoiding early death by common disease.

Exercise can protect against several forms of dementia, and of course maintaining muscle mass protects joints from age-related wear and tear or impacts.


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