How much do people need to walk to curb the impacts of prolonged sitting? It may be as simple as a five-minute “exercise snack” for every 30 minutes of sitting, a team of researchers found.
Most people know that they need to move more and sit less for their health. Sedentary time has been linked to “deleterious health outcomes,” the researchers wrote in their study, published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. Even in adolescents, for instance, sedentary behavior has been linked to higher risks for depression.
Sitting for prolonged periods, noted Columbia University Irving Medical Center (CUIMC), can be harmful to people’s health — and that’s even if they get regular exercise.
However, moving more is not always easy to do, especially on a busy workday. So for their new study, the researchers looked at the different “exercise snacks” that people can do throughout the day.
These included a minute of walking for every 30 minutes of sitting, a minute of walking every 60 minutes of sitting, five minutes of walking every 30 minutes, five minutes of walking every 60, and no walking at all.
“The purpose of this study was to examine the acute effects of multiple doses of a sedentary break intervention on cardiometabolic risk factors, concurrently evaluating efficacy of varying frequencies and durations of sedentary breaks,” the researchers wrote.
Each of the 11 middle-aged and older adults participated in the study for five days. During each day, they sat for eight hours but engaged in one of the interventions. Their glucose was checked every 15 minutes and their blood pressure every 60 minutes — these two measures are said to be “key indicators of cardiovascular health,” CUIMC noted.
Of the exercise breaks, the five-minute walk every 30 minutes appeared to be the optimal intervention. Specifically, it was said to be the only one wherein “glucose incremental area under the curve was significantly attenuated.”
Even though all the breaks led to reductions in BP compared to just sitting all day, the largest reductions were seen in the five-minute walk for every 30 minutes of sitting, and the one-minute walk for every 60.
“The present study provides important information concerning efficacious sedentary break doses,” the researchers wrote. “Higher frequency and longer duration breaks (every 30 min for 5 min) should be considered when targeting glycemic responses, while lower doses may be sufficient for BP lowering.”
This is quite in line with other works touting the importance and benefits of a little exercise in curbing the impacts of sedentary time.
A 2019 study, for instance, found that those who spent at least four minutes a day on exercise were less likely to die early than those who didn’t exercise at all. And in 2015, a published guideline from a panel of international experts recommended workers spend less time sitting to avoid developing long-term health conditions.
In the current study, the researchers also found that participants had improved mood and fatigue levels after the exercise breaks except for the one-minute break for every 60 minutes intervention.
This is “important,” said study lead, Keith Diaz of Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, as per CUIMC. This is because people tend to engage in behaviors that “make them feel good and that are enjoyable,” he noted.
Now, the researchers are expanding their work with a “wider variety” of participants and even more (25) walking doses.
“(O)ur findings show that even small amounts of walking spread through the work day can significantly lower your risk of heart disease and other chronic illnesses,” said Diaz.