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Experts find a healthy solution for prolonged sitting

Sitting for long periods of time has been linked to an alarming number of adverse health conditions such as poor heart health, diabetes, weight gain, dementia, and multiple cancers. Even if you exercise regularly, prolonged sitting and other sedentary behaviors can wreak havoc on your health.

Despite an urgent need for answers, particularly for those who have sedentary jobs, it has remained unclear how much more moving and how much less sitting is needed to prevent serious health hazards. 

Now, exercise physiologists at Columbia University Irving Medical Center have identified one potential solution. The experts report that just five minutes of walking during every half hour of sitting can offset some of the most harmful effects.

The study, led by Dr. Keith Diaz, is the first to look at more than just two or three potential activities to mitigate prolonged sitting. The researchers tested five different scenarios, including one minute of walking after every 30 minutes of sitting, one minute after 60 minutes, five minutes after 30, five minutes after 60, and no walking. 

“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,” said Dr. Diaz.

Ultimately, the study revealed that the most effective solution was five minutes of walking for every 30 minutes of sitting. This was the only amount of movement that significantly lowered both blood sugar and blood pressure, noted the researchers. 

For example, five minutes of walking for every 30 minutes of sitting was found to help regulate how the participants responded to large meals – reducing blood sugar spikes by 58 percent compared with prolonged sitting. 

Any amount of walking was associated with lower blood pressure compared to sitting all day without movement. “This is a sizeable decrease, comparable to the reduction you would expect from exercising daily for six months,” said Dr. Diaz. 

Furthermore, walking for any length of time (except one minute every hour) was associated with significant improvements in mood and less fatigue. 

“The effects on mood and fatigue are important,” explained Dr. Diaz. “People tend to repeat behaviors that make them feel good and that are enjoyable.” 

The research continues, as the team is now testing 25 different doses of walking among a wider variety of participants.

“What we know now is that for optimal health, you need to move regularly at work, in addition to a daily exercise routine,” said Dr. Diaz. “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.”

The research is published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

By Chrissy Sexton, Editor

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