Modern life is nothing but comfortable – and what is more comfortable than taking a seat? At work, Netflix, and everything in between, most people spend far more time sitting than standing each day. A study published in JAMA in 2019 found that the average U.S. teenager sits 7-8 hours a day, while the average adult gets 6 hours of relief each day.
If you think this sounds bad, keep in mind that these numbers are from before the pandemic. Another study published in Frontiers in Psychology focused on the lifestyle changes caused by COVID-19. The researchers reported a 28 percent increase in time spent sitting around the world. So if you’ve been lounging more than usual in the past year and a half, you are definitely not alone.
Why is lazy hours so bad for us? When we sit down, our leg muscles stop working. This means that the body’s largest muscles absorb minimal amounts of sugar from the bloodstream, slowing metabolism and affecting blood sugar regulation, fat loss, and blood pressure. The end result of these metabolic changes is more sugar and cholesterol in the bloodstream, which means a higher risk of diabetes and heart disease. In recent years, many scientists and doctors have even gone so far as to call “the new smoking while sitting”.
If you have a job that requires long hours of sitting down, reading all of this information can be more than a little unsettling. Fortunately, a new study just published in the American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism has uncovered a simple way to counteract the harmful health effects of sitting. Read on to learn more and don’t miss out on the secret side effects of lifting weights for the first time, Science says.
Study authors advise getting up and running for 3 minutes, climbing some stairs, or even having a couple of jumping jacks sitting for every consecutive half hour. This approach seems to help offset some of the harmful effects of sitting. Aim for at least 15 steps as an absolute minimum during each 3-minute break.
When a small group of study participants followed the above directions, their daily blood sugar fluctuations improved. The subjects also showed lower levels of bad cholesterol and fasting glucose. Researchers say these changes are likely due to an improvement in blood flow triggered by more exercise.
“Every waking hour spent in a sitting posture (ie sitting or lying down) increases the risk of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes,” comment the study’s authors Provide easy way to public health interventions for improved insulin sensitivity and metabolic wellbeing. “
After a few weeks of following the “sit for 30 minutes, move 3 minutes” rule, participants had lower fasting blood sugar levels in the morning, suggesting that their bodies were better at controlling blood sugar while they slept. In addition, blood sugar levels were more stable throughout the day, with fewer drops and spikes. And for more great workout tips, check out these 5-minute exercises for a flatter stomach.
Know that this strategy will not reverse all of the unhealthy effects of sitting. If you have the time to get up and move around for more than just 3 minutes, by all means do so.
The 30-minute / 3-minute strategy did not lead to an improvement in overall glucose tolerance or fat content in the participants’ muscles. The researchers therefore conclude that taking at least 15 steps every 30 minutes is likely the bare minimum for staying active throughout the day.
In other words, it will help improve metabolic health, but it won’t do wonders for glucose tolerance. This requires more sustainable movement patterns over longer periods of time. However, study authors say that sticking to the 30-minute / 3-minute strategy over time may be enough to help many avoid type 2 diabetes.
“Our intervention can be the minimum effective dose to interrupt sedentary behavior, where large amounts of total activity are required to achieve greater health benefits,” the research team clarifies.
It’s also important to note that participants who moved more (took more steps, climbed more stairs, etc.) during their 3-minute breaks enjoyed greater metabolic benefits. Subjects who consistently completed 75 steps per break enjoyed the greatest metabolic benefits.
The research team at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden gathered 16 overweight middle-aged men and women who lead a sedentary lifestyle. Everyone wore an activity monitor for a normal week and had a series of metabolic tests. This was done to get some baseline activity / metabolic data.
From there, half of the test subjects were placed in a control group and asked to continue their usual everyday life. The other half were assigned to the active group and instructed to download an app on their phone that would send out warnings every 30 minutes, reminding them to get up and move. After three weeks, all subjects were subjected to another series of metabolic tests.
While many previous studies have examined the impact of activity breaks on a sedentary lifestyle, this work set itself apart from the crowd by allowing subjects to live their normal lives. Most of the previous studies were limited to laboratory settings and much shorter periods of time.
“To the best of our knowledge, this is the longest study investigating the effects of [frequent activity breaks from sitting] and as such, our results have important translational implications, “the researchers note.
We all want to be active and do more sports, but there are only so many hours in the day. Not to mention, getting up to work every half hour while immersed in an important project or attending a large meeting can be difficult. Study authors suggest setting an alarm on your phone so you can remind yourself to get up and move. A short walk to the bathroom is enough.
If you can’t stick to the 30-minute / 3-minute rule every half hour of every day, don’t stress yourself. Instead, try to get more exercise into other areas of your life.
“Fire the gardener, do it yourself,” said Cathy Spencer-Browning, VP of Training & Programming at MOSSA, a group fitness provider. “Carry your own grocery bags, park well away from the store entrance and get there quickly, take the stairs – every time you walk around while you are on the phone, do your chores the old-fashioned way – get off” on top of the Kneel. In all respects, prefer exercise to sitting. ”And for more on the harmful effects of a sedentary lifestyle, read what happens to your body when you sit too much each day, experts say.