With evidence mounting that sitting for long stretches of time is unhealthy, many of us naturally wonder how best to respond. Should we stand up, or is merely standing insufficient? Must we also stroll or jog or do jumping jacks?
A new study offers some helpful perspective, suggesting that even a few minutes per hour of moving instead of remaining in a chair might substantially reduce the harms of oversitting.
As most of us have heard by now, long bouts of sitting can increase someone’s risk for diabetes, heart disease, obesity, kidney problems and premature death. These risks remain elevated even if someone exercises but then spends most of the rest of his or her waking hours in a chair.
In a representative and sobering study being published next month in Diabetologia, scientists found that every hour that overweight adults spent watching television, which is a handy way to measure sitting time at home, increased their risk of becoming diabetic by 3.4%. Most of the participants were watching nearly three hours a day.
But despite such health concerns, simply advising people to abandon their chairs and stand all day is impractical. Many of us who have experimented with standing or treadmill desks have discovered that they can have their own deleterious impacts on typing accuracy, general productivity and our lower backs.
So what reasonable steps could and should people take throughout the day to reduce sitting time?
To help to answer that question, researchers at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City and other institutions recently turned to the immense trove of data available in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which annually asks a cross section of Americans about how they eat, exercise, feel and generally conduct their lives.
Recently, as part of the data collection process, some participants have begun wearing monitors that objectively track their movement patterns. (Otherwise, the data relies on people’s recall of activities, which can be unreliable.)
The researchers gathered monitor data for 3,626 adult men and women, most of whom reported being generally healthy at the start of the study period.
Using standard activity measurements, the researchers then divided each of these participant’s days into minutes spent sitting; participating in low-intensi