Scientists and health practitioners alike have long been aware of the health dangers associated with sitting for long periods. Numerous studies have made links between high rates of sitting — sitting for long periods day after day, such as at an office — and poor health. However, there is hope for people with a sedentary lifestyle. Regular exercise can help alleviate the risk associated with sitting, and the results of a new study have suggested that a two-minute walk every hour can help lower the risks associated with sitting for prolonged periods of time, risks which include heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
The new research was reported in the clinical journal of the American Society of Nephrology, and assessed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, a program of health studies which combined interviews and physical examinations to collate and organise data on the health of adults and children in the United States. The researchers found that, for sedentary people, taking two minutes out of the hour and replacing it with low-intensity activity (an example of such a scenario would be sitting for 58 minutes and standing up for two), health risks did not decrease. However, study participants who spent their two-minute “break” from sitting taking part in “light-intensity” activity had a thirty-three percent lower risk of dying prematurely. Examples of “light-intensity” exercise include walking briskly, tidying, climbing stairs, or stretching.
It is important to note that two-minutes of activity an hour may not be enough to offset the dangerous health effects associated with sitting — it is important, if you have a sedentary lifestyle, that you also take part in at least thirty minutes of moderate exercise at least three times a week. However, these short two-minute periods of activity add up over the course of a week. The study directors were careful to note that because of the study design, these results can only “suggest” the value of these “breaks” from sitting. It is a strong link, but like many studies in medical science and public health the results have not been completely proven, and a larger trial would have to be performed to show that replacing sitting time with activity leads to better health overall.
How can this information help you make healthier choices? Well, if you sit a lot at work or at home, you should definitely make sure that you get a lot of exercise, as much as you can. To further alleviate the health risks associated with a lot of sitting, you should make sure that you get two minutes of moderate exercise out of every hour, or more. How can you achieve this? If you sit at the office, make sure that you take a brisk walk every hour. You could walk briskly while making a phone call, or volunteer to carry out an errand. If you are at home, get your two minutes of brisk activity by doing some squats, stretching, or even carrying out a quick cleaning activity such as taking out the trash or sweeping the floor. Play with your dog, or your children, or walk up and down the stairs a few times.
One thing you should take away from this study is that every minute of activity counts, and it only takes a little time to help prevent serious health problems.