The health risks involved in prolonged sitting all day at work is a topic that I’ve covered a few times on this blog, along with various interventions, including treadmill desks and gamified walking clubs. A recent study, published in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, however, highlights how simple it is to offset the risks of sitting by walking for just two minutes every hour.
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The paper builds on the increasing number of studies highlighting the health risks of prolonged sitting, whether it’s heart disease, cancer, diabetes and even an increased risk of early death. It’s estimated that 80 percent of Americans currently fail to get the recommended levels of exercise (which is 2.5 hours of moderate exercise per week), the challenges in getting the workforce more active are evident.
The researchers, from the University of Utah School of Medicine, attempted, therefore, to try and achieve something more reasonable. They wanted to encourage a small amount of activity for a short period of time, based on findings from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey to highlight the health benefits of low or light levels of activity.
Two Minutes Every Hour
Their findings reveal that something as simple as not sitting for two minutes each hour is often enough. Especially if you spend those two minutes doing low intensity activities, such as a light walk (to the coffee machine perhaps?). This simple activity was enough to trigger a 33 percent reduction in various health risks.
"It was fascinating to see the results because the current national focus is on moderate or vigorous activity. To see that light activity had an association with lower mortality is intriguing," the authors say.
The theory is that even though gentle walks don’t tend to use up a huge amount of energy. If you do them often enough (i.e. every hour) then it adds up to a decent amount when repeated throughout the week. For instance, if we assume we’re awake for 16 hours each day, then two minutes of gentle walking every hour is likely to burn in the region of 400 calories each week.
They contrast this with the 600 calories or so that it’s likely you would burn if you did the recommended total of 2.5 hours a week of moderate exercise. So while it isn’t enough to get you up to the recommended amount, it’s certainly a good start.
"Based on these results we would recommend adding two minutes of walking each hour in combination with normal activities, which should include 2.5 hours of moderate exercise each week," the researchers continue.
The findings emerged when over 3,000 participants were kitted out with accelerometers that measured the amount and the intensity of activity undertaken each day. Each participant was then tracked for another three years to observe how their health unfolded.
"Exercise is great, but the reality is that the practical amount of vigorous exercise that can be achieved is limited. Our study suggests that even small changes can have a big impact," the researchers conclude.
It’s a nice example of how something seemingly insignificant can add up to something worthwhile if you do it consistently enough. Two minutes of walking every hour is something we can all fit into our work lives quite easily and when added up will have a decent impact on our overall health levels.
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Would this be something you feel you can incorporate into your daily habits?