Academic Minute Podcast

Keith Diaz, Columbia University – How to Counteract the Health Harms of Sitting

Get up and move – it’s good for you.

Keith Diaz, Florence Irving associate professor of behavioral medicine at Columbia University Medical Center, explores the health harms of sitting.

Keith Diaz is a certified exercise physiologist and an Associate Professor of Behavioral Medicine at Columbia University Medical Center. His research focuses on elucidating the role of prolonged sedentary behavior in the development of chronic disease, with a specific focus of developing feasible, sustainable, and cost-effective guidelines for reducing prolonged sitting.

How to Counteract the Health Harms of Sitting

Research shows that people who sit for hours on end develop chronic diseases and die prematurely at much higher rates than people who move throughout their day. Because of technological advances, the amount of time adults spend sitting has been steadily increasing for decades. Many adults now spend most of their day sitting. And this problem has only gotten worse since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ultimately, sitting has become an epidemic of the 21st century.

Current guidelines recommend that adults should “sit less, move more.” But these recommendations don’t provide any specific advice or strategies for how often and how long to move.

In our recent study, we set out to find the least amount of walking one could do to offset the harmful health effects of sitting. We asked participants to sit in our lab for eight hours over the course of five separate days while we measured their blood sugar levels and blood pressure. On one of those days, participants sat for the entire eight hours. On the other days, we tested a number of different strategies to break up a person’s sitting with light walking.

We found that a five-minute light walk every half-hour reduced the blood sugar spike after eating by almost 60% and reduced blood pressure by four to five points. But shorter and less frequent walks improved blood pressure too. Even just a one-minute light walk every hour reduced blood pressure by five points.

In addition to physical health benefits, there were also mental health benefits to walking breaks. We found a five-minute light walk every half-hour reduced feelings of fatigue, put participants in a better mood and helped them feel more energized.

Our study provides a simple and affordable strategy to offset the harms of sitting: Take a five-minute light walk every half-hour. If you have a job or lifestyle where you have to sit for prolonged periods, this one behavior change could reduce your health risks.


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