Sitting too long at your desk spells bad news for your health. According to research, too much sitting increases the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and the chance of dying prematurely – even if you exercise every day. Now there’s a new reason to get up out of your chair. A new study shows that taking a brief walking break lowers blood sugar and insulin levels. That’s good news if you’re worried about your risk for type 2 diabetes or the prospect of gaining weight.
Even brief breaks from sitting has benefits
Not everyone has the time to take a long walk several times a day, but a new study shows you don’t have to. Walking breaks as short as two minutes three times an hour can benefit your health.
Researchers in Melbourne, Australia looked at how short walking breaks during the day affected blood sugar and insulin levels. They had a group of overweight adults drink a high-fat, high-sugar drink. When the participants sat without getting up and moving around after drinking this drink, their blood sugar and insulin levels spiked within an hour. On the other hand, when they stood up to leisurely stroll around for two minutes every 20 minutes after drinking the drink, their blood sugar level was 24% lower after drinking the same drink. Insulin levels were also lower. Insulin is a hormone that promotes fat-storage, so lower insulin levels are beneficial for health and weight control.
Interestingly, a leisurely 2-minute walk in this study was almost as effective for lowering blood sugar and insulin levels as more intense exercise. So there’s no need to run a marathon to get the benefits. Two minutes of light activity every 20 minutes helps your body process glucose better. When muscles contract during exercise, muscle cells take up glucose without the need for insulin, so this helps to keep glucose and insulin levels at healthier levels.
What does this mean?
Time to break those cycles of sitting too long. If you have a job where you sit most of the day, set an alarm to go off every 20 minutes as a reminder to walk up and down the hall or go up and down the stairs a few times. When you talk on the phone, don’t do it in your chair. Move around the office as you talk. When you return phone calls at the end of the day, do it while you’re walking. Cell phones are actually good for employee health by giving you the freedom to move around while you talk.
Bring a pair of comfortable shoes to work so getting up and moving around is easier. If you have high-heels on, you’ll be less motivated to move around. Use lunchtime and breaks to move instead of retiring to a chair to eat. Even brief periods of movement can be beneficial to your health, and the calories you burn during short periods of exercise add up by the end of the day. For more motivation, strap on a pedometer.
The bottom line
Don’t become a “sitting duck” for weight gain and type 2 diabetes – or even worse a heart attack. Working out at the gym doesn’t compensate for too much sitting. Get up more often and move during the day.