June 28, 2018
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A 2-Minute Walk May Counter the Harms of Sitting

By Gretchen Reynolds

With evidence mounting that sitting for long stretches of time is unhealthy, many of us naturally wonder how best to respond. Should we stand up, or is merely standing insufficient? Must we also stroll or jog or do jumping jacks?

A new study offers some helpful perspective, suggesting that even a few minutes per hour of moving instead of remaining in a chair might substantially reduce the harms of over sitting.

As most of us have heard by now, long bouts of sitting can increase someone’s risk for diabetes, heart disease, obesity, kidney problems and premature death. These risks remain elevated even if someone exercises but then spends most of the rest of his or her waking hours in a chair.

In a representative and sobering study being published in Diabetologia (journal of European Association for the Study of Diabetes – EASD), scientists found that every hour that overweight adults spent watching television, which is a handy way to measure sitting time at home, increased their risk of becoming diabetic by 3.4 percent. Most of the participants were watching nearly three hours a day.

So what reasonable steps could and should people take throughout the day to reduce sitting time?

To help to answer that question, researchers at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City and other institutions recently turned to the immense trove of data available in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which annually asks a cross section of Americans about how they eat, exercise, feel and generally conduct their lives.

The researchers gathered monitor data for 3,626 adult men and women, most of whom reported being generally healthy at the start of the study period.

Most of the participants spent most of each day sitting.

The scientists wanted to see whether standing, walking or jogging in lieu of sitting was best at extending life spans.

Those people in the study who spent a few minutes each hour engaged in such low-intensity activities did not show much if any decline in death risk, compared with those who sat the most.

But those who walked around after standing, replacing some of their sitting time with a light-intensity activity like strolling, gained a substantial benefit in terms of mortality risk.

In fact, if they replaced as little as two minutes of sitting each hour with gentle walking, they lowered their risk of premature death by about 33 percent, compared with people who sat almost nonstop.

The possible benefits of strolling more often around the office seem alluring and the risks slight, especially if you invite your boss to join you, highlighting your tender care for his or her well-being.