Ever since the pandemic struck, the mental and physical health of many people across the world has been on the line. Shifting to online workspaces and classrooms, many developed the risks of lifestyle diseases with less time dedicated to moving around and more time spent staring at the screens. With the increased rise in health concerns, numerous health professionals and experts advised people to take necessary measures to stay active and maintain a healthy balance between the time spent on and off screens.
However, many individuals continue to find it challenging to strike the right balance. A recent study published by the Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise journal has now explored ways to reduce the harmful effects of sitting throughout the day, and it is as simple as a one-minute walk every half-hour.
Strategising To Combat Lifestyle Diseases
Sitting all day long brings in risks of chronic diseases from diabetes to even several types of cancer at much higher rates compared to those who move throughout their day. The sedentary lifestyle added along with daily exercise may not suffice to reverse the harmful effects of sitting most of the day. Exploring ways to counteract the impact of such habits, the Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise journal conducted an experiment among eleven healthy middle-aged and older adults.
The group were made to sit in the lab for eight hours over the course of five separate days - representing a standard workday period. On one day, the participants sat for eight hours at a stretch apart from the occasional bathroom breaks. On other days, the group tested a set of strategies to break up the participant's sitting with light walking and moving around. The participants would walk for either a minute or five every half-hour of sitting. As many argue that they don't find enough time to stay active, the experiment aimed to look into the least amount of time one could dedicate to stay active and counteract the effects.
For all activities, they continued to track the changes noticed in blood sugar levels and blood pressure - the two most important risk factors for heart disease. Based on the measurements taken, the five-minute light walk every half-hour was the only strategy that reduced blood sugar levels substantially. It reduced the blood sugar spike after eating by almost 60 per cent and reduced the pressure by four to five points. The blood pressure was also improved in cases of shorter and less frequent walks, but it did not have a noticeable impact on the blood sugar levels.
Additionally, the study also pointed out the mental health benefits that came along with the walk breaks. The participants were asked to rate their mental state through a questionnaire, and compared to sitting all day, the five-minute light walks every half-hour reduced feelings of fatigue. It put the participants in a better mood and also helped them with being a lot more productive. Even walks that were taken just once every hour were enough to boost mood and reduce fatigue among people.
Why Is It Necessary?
Prior to the pandemic as well, a good majority of adults spent their time sitting and using their screens. The pandemic simply worsened the case with the migration to remote working conditions. People who sat for hours were found to be at a greater risk of developing chronic diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, dementia and several types of cancer. This form of lifestyle puts the person at risk of early death, thereby fuelling a 21st-century public health problem.
Despite the guidelines that recommended adults to "sit less, move more," even in remote work settings, people were not sure how to carry it out or how long to move around. The study provides the simplest solution to this long-existing problem and recommends a five-minute walk every half an hour to offset the harm of sitting all day. This is especially important in the cases of people engaged in a job requiring them to dedicate screen time for prolonged periods.
According to The Hindu
, the study also provided clear guidance to employers regarding promoting a healthier workplace. For ages, employers have followed a pattern where employees' efforts were exhausted for the 8 hours they were being paid for. While it may seem counterintuitive, taking regular walking breaks has proven to create more productive work than working without a stop.
In their next stage, the study aims to test over 25 different strategies for offsetting the health harms of prolonged sitting. They would also look to create alternatives for people driving trucks or taxis, where they cannot walk every half an hour. These alternatives are expected to yield comparable results as walking every five-minute and would be taken to the public to ultimately help them choose what works for them the best.