Taking 5-minute walks every half-hour can offset health risks of prolonged sitting

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Taking quick five-minute walks every half-hour can mitigate most serious health risks posed by prolonged sitting, a new study has found.

Sitting for prolonged periods of time or leading a mostly sedentary lifestyle have long been linked to several health issues, including obesity, excess body fat, blood pressure, high blood sugar, and unhealthy cholesterol levels, especially if one does not exercise regularly.

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The report, published by Columbia University in New York last week, found that the optimal amount of movement required to offset some of these negative side effects was five minutes of walking every 30 minutes.

The research team, led by Keith Diaz, an associated professor at the university’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, tested five different exercise habits, which referred to as “snacks” in the study.

These “snacks” included one minute of walking after every 30 minutes of sitting, one minute after 60 minutes, five minutes every 30 minutes, five minutes every 60 minutes, and no walking at all.

“If we hadn’t compared multiple options and varied the frequency and duration of the exercise, we would have only been able to provide people with our best guesses of the optimal routine,” Diaz said in a statement.

Each of the 11 adults who took part in the study at Diaz’s laboratory sat in ergonomic chairs for eight hours, only getting up for their designated exercise breaks to walk on a treadmill or go for restroom breaks.

The researchers monitored the participants to prevent over or under exercising and regularly checked their blood pressure and blood sugar levels – which are important indicators of cardiovascular health.

The participants were permitted to use laptops as well as read and use their phones during the sessions and were given standardized meals.The research team discovered that the optimal amount of movement was 5 minutes of walking every 30 minutes because it was the only amount that significantly lowered both blood sugar and blood pressure levels.

This walking regimen also had a significant impact on how the participants responded to large meals, reducing blood sugar spikes by 58 percent compared to sitting down all day.

All amounts of walking significantly reduced blood pressure by four to five mmHg (millimeters of mercury – blood pressure measurement) compared with sitting all day.

“This is a sizeable decrease, comparable to the reduction you would expect from exercising daily for six months,” Diaz explained.

They also found that taking walking breaks every 30 minutes for just one minute provided modest benefits for blood sugar levels throughout the day and that walking for either one or five minutes every hour provided no benefit at all.

In addition, all walking regimens, except for a one-minute walk every hour, effectively reduced participants’ fatigue levels and improved their overall mood. However, none of the walking regimens had any impact on cognitive function.“What we know now is that for optimal health, you need to move regularly at work, in addition to a daily exercise routine,” Diaz said.

“While that may sound impractical, our 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.”

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