A sedentary lifestyle, which often means sitting for long periods of time, isn’t good for your overall health and may increase your risk of heart disease or diabetes. This isn’t particularly welcome news if you have a desk job where you typically spend 8 hours a day sitting at a desk in front of a screen.
Fortunately, there’s a way to counteract the negative health effects of sitting — and it’s pretty simple. Research shows you can undo some of the damage by taking short, regular walking breaks.
Published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, this recent study found when people sat uninterrupted for 3 hours, it negatively impacted the ability of the of the lining within their leg arteries to expand and dilate as needed in response to blood flow. This problematic symptom may be a precursor to heart disease.
When people broke up their 3 hours of sitting with 5-minute walking breaks once an hour, the function of the arteries in their legs was not negatively impacted. “Breaking sitting time with short walking breaks is a countermeasure that protects arterial function against the harmful effects of prolonged sitting,” says study author Saurabh Thosar, PhD, an assistant professor at the Oregon Institute of Occupational Health Sciences at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland.
Because the study participants didn’t exercise vigorously or work up a sweat, it’s easy enough to replicate their efforts in an office setting to reap similar rewards. Set a reminder on your phone or computer every hour to stand up and walk around the office for 5 minutes, whether it’s to the water cooler to hydrate or simply a big loop around your department. You can even grab a fellow co-worker and walk the stairs for an extra challenge. “While the study focused on the effects of an hourly break during a 3-hour period of sitting, hourly breaks will likely have similar effects during an 8-hour workday,” explains Thosar.
If you’re concerned stepping away from your desk once an hour is too often, either because your boss will notice or you’ll lose too much quality work time, other types of breaks may be helpful. “There is some work which suggests that fidgeting might be as good as breaking sitting time,” says Thosar. “That might be a better way, if people don’t want to walk. [And] sitting on a therapy ball will increase muscle contractions and may also help. Just intermittent standing might help, too.”