- Researchers tested different “exercise snacks” between periods of prolonged sitting
- A 5-minute walk every 30 minutes lowered blood glucose and sugar levels
- Participants’ mood and fatigue levels also improved
How much do people need to walk to reduce the effects of prolonged sitting? A team of researchers found that it could be as simple as a five-minute “exercise snack” for every 30 minutes of sitting.
Most people know that they need to move more and sit less for their health. A sedentary lifestyle has been linked to “adverse health effects,” researchers wrote in their study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. For example, even in teenagers, a sedentary lifestyle is associated with a higher risk of depression.
Sitting for long periods of time, as noted by the Columbia University Irving Medical Center (CUIMC), can be harmful to people’s health – even when they exercise regularly.
However, increasing traffic is not always easy, especially on a busy day. For a new study, researchers looked at the different “exercise snacks” people can consume throughout the day.
These included one minute of walking for every 30 minutes of sitting, one minute of walking for every 60 minutes of sitting, five minutes of walking for every 30 minutes, five minutes of walking for every 60 minutes, and no walking at all.
“The purpose of this study was to investigate the acute effects of multiple doses of an intervening sitting break on cardiometabolic risk factors, while evaluating the effectiveness of different frequencies and durations of sitting breaks,” the researchers wrote.
Each of the 11 middle-aged and older adults participated in the study for five days. Each day they sat for eight hours but engaged in one of the interventions. Their glucose levels were checked every 15 minutes and their blood pressure every 60 minutes – two measurements considered “key indicators of cardiovascular health”, noted the CUIMC.
Of the exercise breaks, a five-minute walk every 30 minutes seemed to be the optimal intervention. In particular, it was said to be the only one where “the incremental area of glucose under the curve was significantly attenuated.”
Although all breaks led to lower BP compared to sitting all day, the greatest decreases were seen with a five-minute walk for every 30 minutes of sitting and a one-minute walk for every 60 minutes.
“The current study provides important information regarding effective sedentary break doses,” the researchers wrote. “Higher frequency and longer breaks (every 30 minutes for 5 minutes) should be considered when targeting glycemic responses, while lower doses may be sufficient to lower BP.”
This is in line with other work touting the importance and benefits of a little exercise in reducing the impact of a sedentary lifestyle.
For example, a 2019 study found that those who spent at least four minutes a day exercising were less likely to die prematurely than those who did not exercise at all. And in 2015, a panel of international experts published guidelines recommending that employees spend less time sitting down to avoid developing long-term health problems.
In the current study, researchers also found that participants improved their mood and levels of fatigue after exercise breaks, with the exception of a one-minute break for each 60-minute intervention.
That’s “important,” said study leader Keith Diaz of Columbia University’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, according to the CUIMC. This is because people tend to engage in behaviors that “make them feel good and enjoyable,” he noted.
Now the researchers are expanding their work to include a “wider variety” of participants and even more (25) doses of walking.
“(O)our findings show that even a small amount of walking during the working day can significantly lower the risk of heart disease and other chronic diseases,” Diaz said.