A new study from Columbia University in New York reports that just 5 minutes of walking every half-hour can offset some of the most harmful effects of sitting for long periods.
The research team, led by Keith Diaz, PhD, an associate professor of behavioral medicine at Columbia’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, tested five different exercise “snacks.”
They included 1 minute of walking after every 30 minutes of sitting, 1 minute after 60 minutes, 5 minutes every 30 minutes, 5 minutes every 60 minutes, 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,” Diaz said in a statement.
The need to sit less
There’s plenty of research that concludes that prolonged sitting, like that done in office settings, is a health hazard, even for those who exercise regularly.
Doctors advise adults to move more and sit less.
The question then becomes how to mitigate all that sitting while it happens.
And, according to the new study’s researchers, there hasn’t been much research giving office workers a satisfactory answer.
How the sitting and walking study was conducted
The new study was small – only 11 adults participated in Diaz’s laboratory.
Participants sat in an ergonomic chair for 8 hours, rising only for their prescribed exercise period of treadmill walking or a bathroom break.
Researchers said they made sure each participant didn’t over-exercise or under-exercise. They also periodically measured the study subjects’ blood pressure and blood sugar (key indicators of cardiovascular health).
Participants were allowed to work on a laptop, read, and use their phones during the sessions and were given standardized meals.
What researchers discovered about walking and sitting
Researchers reported that 5 minutes of walking every 30 minutes had the best results. It was the only amount that significantly lowered both blood sugar and blood pressure.
The walking regimen dramatically affected how participants responded to large meals, reducing blood sugar spikes by 58% compared with sitting all day, the researchers reported.
Taking a walking break every 30 minutes for 1 minute also provided modest benefits for blood sugar levels throughout the day.
Walking every 60 minutes (either for 1 minute or 5 minutes) provided no benefit.
All amounts of walking significantly reduced blood pressure by 4 to 5 mmHg compared with sitting all day.
“This is a sizeable decrease, comparable to the reduction you would expect from exercising daily for six months,” Diaz said.
All the walking regimens, except walking 1 minute every hour, significantly decreased participants’ fatigue and showed mood improvements.
None of the walking regimens, however, influenced cognition.