The evidence of the dangers of sitting is mounting. Sitting is not only indicated in an increased chance of chronic pain, obesity, and diabetes, but it also changes our DNA, speeding up the process of aging and increasing the likelihood of chronic disease. After 20 years of sitting for an average of six hours a day (as most people in the U.S. do):
- Your risk of dying from heart disease jumps 64%
- Prostate or breast cancer risk increases by 30%
- You lose seven quality-adjusted years of life
At Pain Doctor, we have often discussed the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle, suggesting such fixes as a standing desk or exercising whenever (and wherever) you can. New research from the University of Utah Health Sciences suggests that although standing up is a good start, it doesn’t quite go far enough. But the study found good news: even adding just two minutes of walking for every hour you are seated can help to balance a more sedentary lifestyle.
Researchers looked at observational data from National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), an annual national health survey noted for its accurate representation of the demographics of the U.S. They wanted to see if simply standing up would be effective to offset the hazards of sitting. To do this, researchers examined data from 3,243 NHANES participants wearing accelerometers to measure how intense their activity was. After the data was collected, the study participants were followed for three years.
Researchers found that those participants who simply walked around or completed low or light intensity activities for an additional two minutes per hour had a 33% decreased risk of death from any cause. These activities could include low-intensity gardening, walking, or household chores. Even just two additional minutes per hour awake burned an average of 400 kcals per week, just 200 kcals short of a recommended 600 kcals.
Lead author Srinivasan Beddhu, M.D., professor of internal medicine, was quick to point out that two minutes of strolling is not enough to garner all the benefits of moderate exercise, adding:
“Based on these results we would recommend adding two minutes of walking each hour in combination with normal activities, which should include 2.5 hours of moderate exercise each week.”
Senior author Tom Greene, Ph.D., director of the Study Design and Biostatistics Center at the Center for Clinical and Translational Science, believes that the initial results of this survey is encouraging for people who may feel that they don’t have time for exercise at the current recommended levels, saying:
“Exercise is great, but the reality is that the practical amount of vigorous exercise that can be achieved is limited. Our study suggests that even small changes can have a big impact.”
So can you walk just two minutes an hour? Here are easy ways to squeeze 120 seconds of movement into your day.
In the office
- Don’t send interoffice email: If you have something to say to a colleague, take a break and walk to their office to say it. Compose your message in your head on your way there so you can deliver it efficiently without too much disruption to their day.
- Take the stairs: This one is easy. Forego the elevator and take the stairs. If you work in a high-rise, time yourself for two minutes on the stairs, then take the elevator the rest of the way if needed.
- Take your bathroom break on a different floor: Everyone has to go, but there is no reason you need to use the restrooms on your floor of your office building. Take the stairs for added exercise.
- Park two minutes away: Park two minutes away from your building to add two minutes to the first and last hour of your workday.
- Dust your house: Chances are good that your baseboards, light fixtures, and chair rails need attention. Even while you are watching TV, stand up once an hour and take a duster to these often-neglected areas.
- Walk to the bus: If you are in the habit of driving your kids to the bus and waiting in the car with them, change it up and walk. The fresh air and exercise is good for mind, body, and spirit and sets a great example for the future fitness of your kids. Rain, sleet, or snow: bundle up and walk.
- Give your dog short, frequent walks: Instead of one long walk at the beginning or the end of the day, take your dog for several short walks a day. You can mix it up with a longer, faster walk several times a week, but this gets you both up and moving.
- Do laundry every day: This may already be part of your life, but walking up and down stairs to the laundry room can easily add up to an extra two minutes a couple hours a day. Remember that it is light intensity activity, not just walking, that offers a benefit. Laundry counts!
Out on the town
- Choose active nights out: Instead of going to the same chain restaurant every week and sitting down for dinner, look for a food truck rally in your town, order something delicious, and walk through the park as you eat it. Or visit a local art museum or gallery and wander instead of remaining seated.
- Park far away from entrances: This is a common suggestion, and with good reason. It takes very little effort to incorporate this into your normal routine but can help add to your hourly two minutes.
Committing to adding two minutes of light-intensity movement every hour you are awake is easy to do, offering big health benefits with very little effort. How will you add your two minutes?