We’ve known for years that prolonged sitting isn’t great for your health, but sedentary lifestyles — due to desk jobs, Netflix binges, and depression-inducing existential crises seemingly every other month — can be difficult to break out of. We know we should get up and move, but how much does the trick? Do we really need to take 10,000 steps a day, or will a stroll around the apartment do it? Thankfully, scientists have now come up with an answer as to how much movement we need throughout the work day lower blood pressure and blood sugar — and it’s very doable.
Understanding that prolonged sitting is a risk factor for diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease, researchers from Columbia University wanted to provide patients with some benchmarks for daily movement.
“We’ve known for probably about a decade now that sitting increases your risk for most chronic diseases and decreases life expectancy,” said study author Keith Diaz, Ph.D., an associate professor of behavioral medicine at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, in a press release. “Just like how much fruits and vegetables they should eat and how much exercise they should do, we need to give (people) specific guidance on how to combat the harms of sitting.”
For a new study, Diaz’s team looked at five different movement routines: one minute of walking every half hour, one minute of walking every hour, five minutes of walking every half hour, five minutes of walking every hour, and no walking.
Study participants sat in an ergonomic chair for eight hours and were allowed to use devices or read. They were allowed to get up only to follow their prescribed movement routine or use the restroom while researchers monitored their blood pressure and blood glucose throughout the day. They also measured mood, cognition, and fatigue periodically.
The number of minutes you need to walk every half hour to lower your blood pressure and blood sugar.
The team discovered that walking for five minutes every half hour reduced both blood pressure and blood glucose. Walking for one minute every half hour improved only blood sugar, and only modestly.
The other walking routines did not provide any benefits to blood sugar. However, all of them improved systolic blood pressure by 4 to 5 mmHg. Diaz noted that benefits were reported even at walking speeds as slow as 1.9 mph, which is slower than most people’s normal gait. “This is a sizeable decrease, comparable to the reduction you would expect from exercising daily for six months,” says Diaz.
All the routines, with the exception of walking one minute every hour, also reduced fatigue and improved mood, though no changes in cognition were recorded.
“What we know now is that for optimal health, you need to move regularly at work, in addition to a daily exercise routine,” says Diaz. “While that may sound impractical, our findings show that even small amounts of walking spread through the workday can significantly lower your risk of heart disease and other chronic illnesses.”
Only 11 participants, all in their 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s, were included in the study. However, Diaz and his team are currently expanding on the study, researching 25 different “doses” of exercise across a wider variety of demographics to determine more detailed walking guidelines.