- New research published in the Journal of Science and Medicine says that reducing your sedentary time by one hour a day for three months improves heart health and metabolic health.
- The goal is to simply move more, more often—participants in the study saw benefits after incorporating standing and low-intensity activity.
Comparisons of sitting to smoking and advice on reducing sedentary time have both become common refrain. But how much do you actually need to reduce your inactivity to see health benefits?
According to a new study in Journal of Science and Medicine, just three months of moving an additional hour per day can provide meaningful changes to cardiovascular health and type 2 diabetes risk—particularly if that’s paired with more physical activity.
Researchers in Finland looked at 64 sedentary middle-aged adults with metabolic syndrome and split participants into two groups: One reduced sedentary behavior by an hour daily with increased standing and light-intensity exercise. The other maintained their usual routine.
Activity and sedentary time was measured through hip-worn accelerometers for three months. Researchers also tracked body composition, blood pressure, blood glucose levels, and a specific liver enzyme that’s used in determining cardiometabolic health.
That research design is unique, because earlier studies mainly relied on measurement of these markers at the beginning and end of a study period, which doesn’t provide insight into how these behavior changes improve health over time, according to lead author Taru Garthwaite, Ph .D. candidate at the University of Turku.
The result was that the intervention group saw better health outcomes related to blood sugar regulation, insulin sensitivity, and liver health, she told Bicycling.
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“The main takeaway message is that by simply sitting a little bit less daily, especially if you’re not physically very active, it makes a difference,” she said. “It’s encouraging to think that health benefits could be achieved by incorporating even just light-intensity activities into the day in place of continuous sitting and you don’t necessarily need to start a rigorous exercise program.”
In terms of why sitting seems to be so harmful, it’s still not entirely clear, she added. However, there are some clues about physiological mechanisms. For example, the inactivity of leg muscles and changes in blood flow and vasculature likely play a role.
“Standing up and moving around naturally activates muscles and increases blood flow in comparison to continuous sitting, and this in turn improves glucose and lipid metabolism,” she said.
One caveat for avid cyclists keep in mind: It’s probable that for sedentary and inactive people who already have some metabolic impairments—like the participants in the study—even a modest amount of activity can provide benefits, but Garthwaite added that healthy, active people may need a greater reduction in sitting time for health improvements.
No matter what your starting point, though, the message is the same: “Some activity, of any intensity, is better than none,” Garthwaite said.
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