Just five minutes of walking every half hour can reduce the harmful effects of a sedentary life, according to a new study. Researchers from Columbia University tested five different types of exercise “snacks” and found it’s actually much easier than we thought to counter the effects of sitting down for long periods — but you have to be consistent about it.
Sitting is the new smoking
It’s estimated that 1 in 4 American adults sit for more than 8 hours a day — a very long time that our bodies aren’t really built to withstand. This is particularly concerning as scientists are finding more and more negative health effects associated with sitting.
Prolonged sitting for over six hours has been linked to a whole set of metabolic disorders such as obesity, diabetes, and premature death. In older adults, previous studies have found that sedentary behavior can thin out the part of the brain critical to memory formation. About two million deaths per year are linked to physical inactivity.
The only good alternative is moving your body as much as possible. But what’s the minimum or optical dose and frequency? That’s what researchers have been trying to figure out for several years — and now, according to a new study, they have arrived at an ideal standard: five minutes of walking for every half hour of sitting down.
“Sedentary time is ubiquitous in developed nations and is associated with deleterious health outcomes. Physical activity guidelines recommend reductions in sedentary time, however quantitative guidelines that inform how often and how long sedentary time should be interrupted have not been provided,” the researchers wrote in their paper.
In previous studies, the researchers at Columbia University found that if you replaced 30 minutes of sitting with 30 minutes of physical activity, individuals reduced their risk of death by 17% with light exercise and 34% with moderate exercise. Now, the team wanted to see if they could condense physical activity into manageable bite-sized snacks that could be easier to incorporate into people’s routines.
The researchers picked a group of 11 healthy, middle- and older-aged adults and asked them to trek into their lab for eight hours a day, five days a week for several weeks, for different trials. During each, volunteers tried one specific sitting and physical routine, whether a one-minute break every 30 or 60 minutes or a longer five-minute break.
During the breaks, the volunteers walked on a treadmill with light intensity. They were given breakfast, mainly cereal, and lunch, like vegetable lasagna. Blood glucose levels were checked every 15 minutes and blood pressure, every hour. There was also a controlled trial with no physical activity, just sitting down in a chair for eight hours.
Among all the different routines, the researchers found that five minutes of strolling after 30 minutes of sitting had the greatest impact on short-term health. Blood glucose levels after a big mean were down by 58% compared to the control trial. Blood pressure was also down by four to five millimeters of mercury for all walking break routines.
While regular light walks won’t automatically mean cardiovascular fitness, the researchers said they should supplement people’s main course of exercise – as multivitamins supplement a healthy diet. People with chronic conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure could see a larger benefit and maybe within just one minute of light physical activity, they said.
The study was published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.
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