5-minute walk every half hour can reduce harm of sitting, study suggests

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A research team in the United States has found a straightforward way to mitigate the health risks associated with prolonged sitting.

According to a study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, taking a five-minute light walk every half hour can offset the detrimental effects of sitting on our health, specifically regulating blood sugar and blood pressure.

The Study Design and Its Implications

Led by Keith Diaz, Assistant Professor of Behavioral Medicine at Columbia University Medical Center, the study involved 11 healthy middle-aged and older participants.

They were asked to sit in ergonomic chairs for eight hours but were also given various walking break schedules.

The research found that walking at a leisurely pace of 3 km/h for five minutes every 30 minutes offered the most health benefits.

Besides physiological improvements, the participants reported feeling less fatigued and more energized, and they were in a better mood.

Diaz emphasized the importance of specific guidelines to counter the health risks of sitting, stating, “Just like how much fruits and vegetables they should eat and how much exercise they should do, we need to give people specific guidance on how to combat the harms of sitting.”

The Office Dilemma

Despite the apparent health benefits, implementing these short walking breaks in a typical office setting might be easier said than done.

Diaz notes that “social norms” in many workplaces equate sitting at a desk with productivity, making it socially awkward for employees to take frequent walking breaks.

However, Diaz urges businesses to reconsider these norms. “Sitting is an occupational hazard, and a healthy employee is a more productive employee,” he argues.

Are Standing Desks the Answer?

When asked about the efficacy of standing desks as a solution, Diaz expressed skepticism.

“I worry that people have this false sense that they are healthy because they are using this desk, and maybe they’re not actually that much better,” he said.

The Takeaway

The study reinforces the idea that the key to offsetting the risks of prolonged sitting lies in regular movement.

“To the extent that you can break up your sitting with some kind of movement breaks, you’re still going to yield some benefit,” says Diaz.

With the growing body of evidence highlighting the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle, this research offers a manageable and practical way to maintain health in a world increasingly dominated by sitting-based tasks.

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The research findings can be found in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

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