Getting up and walking around for three minutes every half hour is enough to alleviate some of the more harmful effects of staying glued to your desk.
This is the conclusion of a hands-on study done in a real office environment, but it can serve as a useful guide for people working long hours at home under confinement.
There are good reasons to be careful. As a government health advice website warns, “Sitting is the new tobacco.”
That’s a precise slogan, given that sitting or lying down too long, day in and day out, increases your risk for heart disease, stroke, and cancer, as well as obesity, deep vein thrombosis, and cancer. metabolic disease.
A 2016 study of data from 54 countries found that sitting still – just sitting for too long – was responsible for 4% of all deaths.
But how can this happen?
Easy. When you sit for hours, the biggest muscles in your body – your back (which keeps you straight) and the muscles in your thigh – relax.
They are designed to absorb glucose from the blood, which is burned when you take a walk.
In addition, these muscles, when active, release biochemicals that help break down fatty acids in the blood. When they are not active, cholesterol builds up in our blood.
This increases the risk of type 2 diabetes and metabolic disease, which in turn affects your heart. This is the case even for people who appear to be in good health.
Previous research has shown that getting up and moving around for a few minutes every hour can reduce this risk, improving blood sugar regulation and cholesterol levels.
But these studies took place in the laboratory and were limited to a few days.
This experience was in the real world
In the new study, from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, 16 obese office workers at higher risk for type 2 diabetes were fitted with continuous blood sugar and activity monitors for four weeks.
These people were aged 44 to 53, with a body mass index of 32 to 35.8.
The first week was a reference period. The group was then split into two: a control group who continued with their “usual way of life” (sitting uninterrupted as usual) and the experimental group.
Every day, between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m., the experimental group received smartwatch notifications to interrupt their session with three minutes of low to moderate intensity physical activity every 30 minutes.
Participants walked through the hallways and up the stairs. Some even walked, others did jumping jacks. The exercise had to be practical and tolerable. It was also considered important that their colleagues were not distracted.
At a bare minimum, they had to take at least 15 steps before the app registered their activity as a break from sitting.
Some participants worked harder than others – some registering a modest 2.2 additional minutes of walking per day, and others registering an additional 24.6 minutes walking per day.
The control group had persistent problems with insulin resistance, blood sugar control and cholesterol levels.
The experimental group recorded lower fasting glucose levels in the morning, which means their bodies have better control over glucose levels at night.
They also recorded higher levels of “good” HDL cholesterol and lower levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol.
As the authors note: “This intervention may represent the minimum dose to disrupt sedentary behavior, with larger volumes of activity possibly needed to promote greater health benefits. “