RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—In the last year, we've been repeatedly told by scientists that too much sitting causes excess weight gain, increased risk of certain cancers, cardiovascular disease, pain, fatigue, and early death.
Many of us learned of those reports while—where else?—parked in a chair, sitting in front of a computer. A large chunk of the population finds itself in the sedentary state, sitting, on average, for half of every workday, which in turn translates into a sedentary state of mind, too. And while a new study published in the European Heart Journal finds that even exercising moderately to vigorously at some point during the day doesn’t fix the damage done by sitting too much, it offers a practical workaround: Taking little breaks—as short as one minute—throughout the work day can help prevent some of the health bummers associated with too much sitting.
THE DETAILS: Australian researchers used data from more than 4,750 adults; they used movement data collected by a device attached to participants' hips while they were awake. Researchers also looked at waist circumference and blood pressure, blood fats, inflammation, and cholesterol levels. The found that the people who were most active during the day recorded a sedentary time of 1.8 hours, while the most sedentary recorded a whopping 21.2 hours per day. The person who recorded the most breaks (even short movement breaks) hit nearly 1,260 in a week, while the most sedentary people recorded just 99 in a full week's time. The researchers found that extended periods of inactivity correlated with larger waistlines and higher risk of cardiovascular problems.
Looking at the number of breaks in sedentary time, the most significant difference found was in waist-circumference measurements. The top 25 percent of people who took the most breaks had a more than 1½-inch smaller waist measurement than the 25 percent of people who took the least breaks. The latest study also found that even people who work out regularly at moderate to vigorous intensity were not protected from long bouts of sitting, so even if you regularly exercise, incorporating short movement breaks into your day is important to protect health, the researchers found. "Our research showed that even small changes, which could be as little as standing up for one minute, might help to lower this health risk," explains Genevieve Healy, PhD, a research fellow at the School of Population Health at The University of Queensland in Australia. "It is likely that regular breaks in prolonged sitting time could be readily incorporated into the working environment without any detrimental impact on productivity, although this still needs to be determined by further research. ‘Stand up, move more, more often' could be used as a slogan to get this message across."