Research conducted over many years consistently indicates that sitting for long periods is bad for both our mental and physical health. But for many of us stuck at a desk all day – it can be difficult not to sit. The standing desk trend took off a few years ago, however recent research suggests that walking around for as little as five minutes each hour can improve mood, prevent lethargy, increase focus, and even dull hunger pangs.
Common medical opinion dictates that long uninterrupted bouts of sitting is unhealthy. Studies consistently show that when we sit motionless, blood flow to the legs reduces and our risk of heart attack, diabetes, depression and obesity is increased. However recent research conducted in the USA indicates that getting up and walking around for just five minutes every hour can have significant health benefits. For many people who don’t have the option of a standing desk or the luxury of working out in the middle of the day, you can probably manage to fit in five minutes of movement for every hour that you’re sitting.
The research study, published in November in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, found that frequent, brief walking breaks were more effective at improving well-being than a single, longer walk before or after work. The study was conducted on a relatively small group of people with researchers initially inviting the sedentary office workers to a university clinic to complete a range of health tests and questionnaires. Heart rates and stress hormones were measured with participants asked to rate their energy, mood and appetite on a numerical scale. Concentration and decision making ability was also measured using a specially designed computerised game.
Participants then visited the clinic on three separate occasions to simulate a six-hour workday. On the first day they sat for the whole time working with no interruptions, except bathroom breaks. On the second, they walked moderately for 30 minutes at the start of their day, and then sat for the five and a half hours with no interruptions, except bathroom breaks. And on the third visit, participants sat for six hours, but began each hour with five minutes of moderate walking on a treadmill.
At the start and end of each session, researchers checked stress hormones and heart rate, with participants asked to rate mood, energy, fatigue and appetite several times during each day, and the computerised testing of concentration and decision making was repeated at the end of each session.
After analysing the data, researchers consistently found that both the morning walking and the five-minute sessions increased participants’ energy, but only the hourly walking had workers reporting greater happiness, less fatigue and less food cravings than on the other days. Their feelings of vigour tended to increase throughout the day with the hourly walking, whereas they had often plateaued by early afternoon after walking only once in the morning.
The good news is that the detrimental effects of sitting all day can be minimised by adding just five minutes of walking for every hour of sitting. Introducing these short bouts of activity during the workday of sedentary office workers seems like a simple approach to improving health and well-being with very little effort or time constraints. So why not jump on board – make it your goal to get moving more consistently at work. You can schedule in just five minutes walking every hour by combining it with your bathroom break, trip to the water cooler or coffee machine.
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