Spending most of the day sitting is one of the greatest enemies of our health. So much so that for some years experts have already stated that “the chair is the new cigarette”.
This physical inactivity increases the risk of diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, heart attack, stroke and even some types of cancer. In addition, research has already shown that those who sit for more than six hours a day are 19% more likely to die early, compared to those who sit for less than three hours.
But what to do when we spend most of the day in the chair out of obligation, because of work, traffic, studies? A small survey carried out by scientists at the Institute Karolinska (Sweden) discovered a simple and quick solution that helps reduce the harm of sitting: take short breaks every half an hour to perform 3 minutes of light to moderate exercise, such as climbing stairs, squatting or even walking down the company hallway .
In the scientific work, 16 obese adults at high risk for developing diabetes who adopted the tactic for three weeks showed a small improvement in blood sugar (glycemia) and metabolic health.
According to the researchers, the result shows that short breaks during the day to move and break physical inactivity are positive, but the gains are very modest and 3 minutes is the minimum dose. For more benefits, it’s best to exercise longer—not just every 30 minutes of work, but also for the rest of the day.
How the research was done
- The study evaluated 10 sedentary and obese women and 6 men, with a mean age of 50 years and a mean BMI of 32 kg/m2.
- The volunteers received a continuous glucose monitor, to measure their blood sugar level, and a smartwatch, to monitor daily physical activity. In the first week, all volunteers maintained their normal routine.
- Afterwards, people were randomly divided into two groups: the control, who followed their usual lifestyle; and the intervention, which was instructed to take 3-minute breaks every half hour to do low-to-moderate intensity exercises.
- For three weeks, subjects in the second group received daily, from 8 am to 6 pm, smartwatch notifications every 30 minutes to get up from their chair and do activities such as squats, climbing stairs, running in place or walking for at least 15 steps.
- The study showed that the group that left the chair to perform exercises increased the number of daily steps by 744 and the walking time by 10 minutes, on average.
- In addition, these people experienced a modest reduction in fasting blood glucose and daily variation in blood sugar, which is positive for metabolic health and can inhibit long-term problems with diabetes.
- Volunteers who met all exercise prompts and were more active — taking 75 more steps in 3 minutes — were the ones who showed the greatest body improvement. “But the metabolic health of everyone who moved has improved a little,” said Erik Näslund, a professor at the Karolinska Institute and supervisor of the study.
For those who want to adopt the tactic and get up from their chair every 30 minutes to be more active, Näslund recommends setting an alarm on your cell phone or computer and investing in any activity: walking down the hallway; run in place; climbing steps; or walk to the bathroom or for coffee.
In addition, he emphasizes the importance of adopting other tactics to be more active during working hours and also outside of working hours, such as changing the elevator for stairs, talking on the phone while standing, getting down a stop earlier and walking to the company or your house, park the car a few blocks further from the office, etc.