A new study suggests that moving for just a few minutes every hour can substantially reduce the harm caused by prolonged sitting.
A growing body of research suggests that long periods of time spent sitting can increase a person's risk of diabetes, obesity, heart disease, kidney issues, and premature death. And the elevated risks persist even for people who exercise but spend most of their remaining hours seated.
Concerned by the findings, many workplaces have experimented with standing or treadmill desks, but those office options can have a negative impact on typing accuracy, overall productivity, and lower backs.
To identify ways to reasonably mitigate the effects of prolonged sitting during the workday, researchers at the University of Utah examined data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which each year surveys Americans about their eating and exercise habits, as well as general lifestyles and habits. Some survey participants wore monitors that tracked their movement patterns.
The researchers looked at the monitoring data of more than 3,500 adults, most of whom reported being healthy at the beginning of the study and most of whom spend most of their days sitting. They compared the data to mortality data in the three to four years after the survey.
They found that participants who engaged in bouts of low-intensity activity, like standing, during the day did not have a lower mortality risk than those who sat the most.
But those who engaged in bouts of light-intensity activity—like walking around—had a significantly lower mortality rate compared with those who sat the most. In fact, spending just two minutes of each hour gently walking lowered participants' risk of premature death by about 33%.
Moreover, the researchers found that the benefits were additive, meaning each minute spent walking during the workday had a positive effect on mortality risk (Reynolds, New York Times, 5/13).
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