New research published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise has shown that taking short, active breaks from sitting can improve cardiometabolic risk factors, especially in those with sedentary lifestyles.
Sedentary lifestyles and prolonged sitting have become more common in modern society with increases in office jobs and screen-based hobbies like television and video games. While substantial evidence shows that prolonged sitting can have a negative impact on health (and particularly on the cardiovascular system), few studies have quantified the length and timing of active breaks that might counteract the negative effects of prolonged sitting. This study tested different frequencies and durations of interruptions to sedentary time to see which were most effective for improving cardiometabolic risk factors.
The cross-over study included 11 middle-aged adults who completed each of five conditions on five separate days. The first condition was a sedentary control condition in which participants sat for 8 hours with only bathroom breaks. The other four conditions were experimental conditions that tested different frequencies and durations of active breaks (in addition to bathroom breaks): participants would participate in light-intensity walking every 30 minutes for 1 minute, every 30 minutes for 5 minutes, every 60 minutes for 1 minute, and every 60 minutes for 5 minutes. While sitting, participants were allowed to use computers, work on their phones, and read, and their blood pressure and blood sugar were checked regularly throughout the study.
Of the four experimental conditions, only walking for 5 minutes every 30 minutes significantly improved both blood sugar and blood pressure. This exercise regimen also significantly reduced blood pressure spikes after large meals; spikes were reduced by 58% compared with sitting all day. All of the walking conditions except walking for 1 minute every 60 minutes also improved the participants’ moods and made them feel less fatigued. The senior author of the study noted that moving regularly at work in addition to having a regular exercise routine is important for optimal health.