Sit less, live more: How sedentary breaks shape your heart health

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prolonged-sitting(NaturalHealth365)  Researchers have progressively studied the effects of prolonged sitting and a predominantly sedentary lifestyle over the last 20 years.  As our jobs have become more office-focused with less movement, the potentially harmful effects of sitting for long hours have proven worse for our health than originally thought.

A recent study published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports Exercise sheds light on the affirmative advantages of interrupting extended periods of sitting.  While the research and others like it don’t necessarily indicate the level of damage a sedentary lifestyle creates, this study does illustrate just how big of a difference breaking up long periods of sitting can make.  Let’s dive into the study, its findings, and how you can implement simple changes in your life.

Shifting from active living to prolonged sitting has severe consequences

In the age of pervasive sitting, the toll on our health is starkly evident.  Sitting for an extended period of time is undeniably linked to the development of deep tissue blood clots, a slowdown in metabolism, compromised glucose sensitivity, elevated heart rate, and blood pressure, and, inevitably, unwanted weight gain.

Over the past 50 years, our society has transitioned from one that was active both in leisure and work to one where sitting dominates our free time and professional lives.  The workplace atmosphere in the ’70s and ’80s was noticeably more dynamic, characterized by increased movement and changes in location.  However, with the advent of worldwide interconnectivity, people can now complete far more tasks solely from their computers.

Especially during the peak of the COVID crisis, when people spent considerable time indoors, the potential risks associated with prolonged periods of sedentary living gained prominence in the realm of science and medicine.

Prolonged sitting is also harmful in the short term

In addition to long-term and large-scale health deficits that sitting causes, there are short-term detrimental effects as well.  Many people do not have the correct equipment or training to practice good posture while sitting and will potentially develop a hump in their upper back.

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Additionally, prolonged sitting stiffens the hip flexor muscles and other primary core muscle groups in the back and stomach.  Weakening of these muscle groups can make the risk of injury greater, increase the likelihood of back pain, and make exercising significantly more unlikely due to soreness.

Short breaks uncover surprising health benefits for blood sugar and blood pressure

The study referenced above aimed to understand how taking breaks from sitting affects our health, specifically looking at factors like blood sugar and blood pressure.  The researchers tested different combinations of break frequency and duration in younger and older adults.

They found that taking breaks, especially every 30 minutes for 5 minutes, had positive effects on blood sugar levels and lowered blood pressure.  The study suggests that more frequent and longer breaks might be better for managing blood sugar, while shorter breaks could still be beneficial for reducing blood pressure.

In another study, participants broke up prolonged sitting with body-weighted activities like squats and calisthenics, replacing traditional weights with their own body weight.  The participants were then given a timed mathematical test and had their feet immersed in an ice bath to simulate different types of acute stress.  Their reactions were measured by blood markers for cytokines and cardiovascular indicators, and their blood pressure was taken before, during, and after the tests.

The results echoed the initial study, revealing that integrating light physical activity into extended sitting sessions mitigated the body’s response to stress and enhanced cardiovascular markers before, during, and after the stressful scenarios.

Tips to boost your health without a gym membership

While daily exercise is critically important for everyone, these studies prove that you don’t need to start with a drastic overhaul to see improvements in your health.  If you sit at your job all day and then come home and sit at night doing leisurely activities, it is important to break up those activities with movement.

Setting a timer on your watch or phone to remind yourself to get up and move around every 30 minutes can significantly impact your blood pressure, cardiac markers, and insulin sensitivity.  Breaking up these periods of sitting every 30 minutes with 5 minutes of more intense physical activity – such as squads, toe touches, jumping jacks, or other aerobic body weight activity – can have a profound effect on your health.

Consider that if you spend 5 minutes out of every 30 doing some aerobic activity over the course of a day, you would probably get more exercise than if you tried to go to the gym every day and failed most of the time.  It might be easier for some people to spend a few minutes every half hour exercising, culminating in 30-plus minutes of exercise daily, rather than trying to do it all at once.

The key takeaway is that any movement breaking up 30-60 minutes of sitting benefits you and should be part of your daily routine.  Start small and simply get up and walk in place, and maybe stretch your subsequent sessions to 10 or even 15-minute walks once an hour.  You might be surprised at how much of a difference it makes for your energy levels, too.

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