How to prevent damage from prolonged sitting?

Even if you work out regularly, sitting for too long is bad for your health. But there is an easy way to avoid harm, new research says.

Maria Zavialova

Whether it’s a job that requires prolonged sitting or just a bad habit, doctors and the founder of the Women’s Health School, Natalia Silina, constantly advise adults to sit less and move more. The results of several studies prove that the harm of this staple feature of modern-day life can be avoided in a fairly simple way.

Is there a “safe” sitting time?

This is the question posed by professor Keith Diaz, the leader of a new study by Columbia University. And how often should you get up from your chair?

Unlike other studies that test one or two activity options, Diaz’s research tested five different options. Namely: one minute of walking every 30 minutes of sitting, one minute every 60 minutes, five minutes every 30 minutes, five minutes every 60 minutes, and no walking.

If we hadn’t compared multiple options and varied the frequency and duration of the exercise, we would have only been able to provide people with our best guesses of the optimal routine.

Keith Diaz, PhD, associate professor of behavioral medicine at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons

11 adults had been sitting in ergonomic chairs for eight hours in Diaz’s lab. They were between the ages of 40 and 60, and most did not have diabetes or high blood pressure. The participants got up only for the treadmill walking break assigned to each one, or for a bathroom break. Researchers monitored everyone and periodically measured blood pressure and blood sugar (key indicators of cardiovascular health).

During the sessions, participants were allowed to work on their laptops, read, and use their phones. They were also provided with standardized meals.

Sitting time and healthy “snacks” – results

The optimal amount of movement, according to the researchers, was a five-minute walk every 30 minutes. This was the only amount that significantly reduced both blood sugar and blood pressure. In addition, this walking routine had a significant impact on how participants responded to large meals. Blood sugar spikes were reduced by 58% compared to sitting throughout the day.

Taking a walking break every 30 minutes for one minute also had moderate benefits for blood sugar levels throughout the day. At the same time, walking every 60 minutes (for one or five minutes) did not provide any benefits.

Any duration of walking significantly reduced blood pressure by 4-5 mmHg compared to sitting all day.

This is a sizeable decrease, comparable to the reduction you would expect from exercising daily for six months.

Professor Keith Diaz

Other findings

The researchers also periodically measured the participants’ mood, fatigue, and cognitive abilities during the trial. All walking routines, except for walking for one minute every hour, resulted in significant reductions in fatigue and significant improvements in mood. None of the walking regimens affected cognitive function.

According to researcher Keith Diaz, the impact on mood and fatigue is important. After all, people tend to repeat behaviors that make them feel good and bring them pleasure.

Researchers at Columbia University are currently testing 25 different doses of walking for health effects on a wider range of people.

What we know now is that for optimal health, you need to move regularly at work, in addition to a daily exercise routine. 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.

Professor Keith Diaz

Other healthy habits that leading American doctors recommend incorporating into your life in 2023 are collected for you here.

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