Exercise “Snacks” Offset Prolonged Sitting

Exercise “Snacks” Offset Prolonged Sitting

What you can do now

A new study found that just five minutes of walking every half hour can offset the effects of prolonged sitting.

If you’re the type of person who works out for 30 minutes to an hour and then spends the rest of the day sitting, you may be surprised to learn that a little bit of exercise doesn’t reverse the damage of sitting for the remainder of your waking hours. 

Sitting for long periods of time is common in modern-day life. Most jobs require working at a desk with a computer and when we aren’t doing that, many of us are sitting on the couch scrolling on our phones or staring at the television. 

And that may come at a cost: Research has found that spending your day in a sedentary state is hazardous to your health, even for those who exercise regularly. 

Sitting too much puts you at risk of:

  • Obesity

  • High blood pressure

  • High blood sugar

  • Excess body fat

  • Increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease

  • Increased risk of death from cancer

However, a new study by Columbia University exercise physiologists may have unlocked the perfect solution.  

Exercise “Snacks”

This 2023 study found that just five minutes of walking every half hour during periods of prolonged sitting can offset some of the most harmful effects. 

The study tested five different exercise "snacks": 

  • One minute of walking after every 30 minutes of sitting

  • One minute of walking after every 60 minutes of sitting

  • Five minutes of walking after every 30 minutes of sitting

  • Five minutes of walking after every 60 minutes of sitting

  • No walking at all

The study participants were seated in ergonomic chairs for a full eight hours, only standing up for their scheduled exercise breaks which included either treadmill walking or a quick trip to the restroom. The researchers closely monitored each participant to ensure they were getting the right amount of exercise, and regularly checked their vital signs such as blood pressure and blood sugar levels. During the study, participants were able to use laptops, read, and use their phones, and the researchers provided them with regular meals.

The Results

It’s no surprise to learn that any amount of walking the participants did reduce their blood pressure, but scientists found that the sweet spot for movement from the study was five minutes of walking for every 30 minutes of sitting. This balance had a strong effect on lowering not only blood pressure but also blood sugar. In addition to that, this walking regimen reduced blood sugar spikes by nearly 60% compared to sitting all day. 

But the results don’t end there. In addition to checking participants’ physical health, the researchers also looked at their mental health, including:

  • Mood

  • Fatigue

  • Cognitive performance

They found that all of the exercise “snacks” tested (aside from one minute of walking every hour) significantly decreased fatigue and significantly increased mood. There were no signs of a shift in cognitive performance either way. 

Why is this finding about fatigue and mood important? Because people are creatures of habit, and those habits are easier to develop when they elicit positive feelings and emotions. 

In order to achieve optimal health, it may be time to look not just at those 30 to 60 minutes of gym time, but your entire day instead. And you don’t have to walk five miles to see results – this study proves that walking for just five minutes every 30 minutes may decrease your health risks while improving your mental health as well.