We are being encouraged more and more to get moving and keep moving to avoid the pitfalls of being sedentary. Sitting too much and for too long has overwhelmingly negative consequences in terms of our body size, health, and longevity, regardless of whether or not we exercise. It is associated with heart disease, diabetes, and even all-cause mortality – regardless of weight status. This news may seem grim in light of a typical work-day, but it really doesn’t have to be!
We often spend 8-10 hour stretches each day in an office chair staring at a computer, sitting in meeting after meeting or parked in front of a [traffic light, tv, tablet, phone, you-name-it] both during the day and in the evening. It probably doesn’t occur to us that even if we do spend an hour in the gym, there are benefits to breaking up our sedentary time throughout the course of a day that could have long term effects completely separate from (and a great addition to) time spent in continuous exercise.
One of the most compelling reasons to break up sedentary hours and get moving, even for very brief intervals, is the favorable impact it has on blood sugar levels throughout the day. This is as true for people who don’t struggle with their weight as it is for people who are overweight or obese. The approach may be different, but both groups can benefit from breaking up these long stretches of time.
One small study, conducted with overweight and obese test subjects, contrasted the differences in blood sugar levels after standing, walking, or cycling for periods during the work-day. They replaced seated time with active time in 10-30 minute intervals, totaling 2.5 hours. Desks were retrofitted with treadmills or bicycles for the walking and cycling portion of the test. They found that the more you move, the better the result, but even standing can have an impact for this population. The overall results were between 5-12% lowered blood glucose – with the best results cropping up on the cycling days. (1) While most of us don’t have the option of connecting a treadmill or bicycle to our workstations, we could probably come up with a plan to stand some of the time and use break-times and lunch for light walking (or even cycling). For those of you in heels or fancy shoes, leaving a pair of weather-appropriate shoes at work could knock down that barrier.
Another research team took a look at a group of healthy, ‘normal-weight’ individuals, through a different lens. For these folks, standing intervals did not offer the same benefit that they did for the overweight/obese group, but walking definitely did. Light intensity walking reduced both blood glucose and insulin over the course of a 9-hour day for people who took a brisk 2-minute walk for every 30 minutes of sitting. (2) This was contrasted with a group who took a brisk 30-minute walk before uninterrupted sitting for nine hours. Their glucose and insulin levels were about the same as the group who didn’t walk at all!
Give yourself two minutes to brainstorm all the tiny errands you could do throughout the day that could be transformed into a 2-minute walk. Getting a glass of water. Retrieving a report from the printer. Taking the long route through the office to a meeting. Walking outside to get the mail and cruising an extra half block. Walking up and down a flight of stairs (a few times if it’s short!). You don’t need to break a sweat to do something great for yourself.
Time spent being active throughout the day/week is still as important as ever, but the evidence is clear that it’s not enough. The good news? It doesn’t take a miracle to make an impact during those long hours spent sitting. Start slow if you need to, set a timer on your phone as a reminder, and take two (minutes) to take care of you.
Written by Samantha, Bastyr University student intern
- Briefly standing, or being active, reduces blood sugar across the day. Reuters. 2016. Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-activity-glucose-sitting-idUSKCN10N21R. Accessed October 28, 2016.
- Peddie M, Bone J, Rehrer N, Skeaff C, Gray A, Perry T. Breaking prolonged sitting reduces postprandial glycemia in healthy, normal-weight adults: a randomized crossover trial. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2013;98(2):358-366. doi:10.3945/ajcn.112.051763.