Give Your Butt a Break and Live Longer

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sitting at work Everyone knows that sitting on your butt all day at work can be harmful to your job, but few realize that it can also be harmful to your health.

A new study recently found that it is not just the length of time people spend sitting down that can make a difference, but also the number of breaks that they take while sitting at their desk. Plenty of breaks, even if they are as little as one minute, seem to be good for people's hearts and their waistlines.

Feel free to use this study when attempting to convince your boss that you need more breaks.

The research, published in the European Heart Journal, is the first in a large, multi-ethnic look at the links of the total amount of time spent sitting down and breaks in sedentary time, with various indicators of risk for heart disease, metabolic diseases such as diabetes, and inflammatory processes that can play a role in atherosclerosis (blocked arteries).

What Researchers Found

The findings revealed that prolonged periods of sedentary time, even in people who also spent some time in moderate-to-vigorous exercise, were associated with worse indicators of cardio-metabolic function and inflammation, such as larger waist lines, lower levels of HDL ("good") cholesterol, higher levels of C-reactive protein (an important marker of inflammation) and triglycerides (blood fats).

However, the study also found that, even in people who spent a long time sitting down, the more breaks they took during this time, the smaller their waists and the lower the levels of C-reactive protein.

To obtain these findings, study participants wore a small device called an accelerometer, which monitored the amount and intensity of walking or running activity. It was worn on the right hip during waking hours for seven days and it gave researchers information on sedentary time and breaks in sedentary time. Measurements were taken of waist circumference, blood pressure, cholesterol levels and C-reactive protein concentrations.

Dr. Genevieve Healy, a research fellow at the School of Population Health, at The University of Queensland, Australia, who led the study, said: "The benefits of regular participation in moderate-to-vigorous intensity exercise are well accepted scientifically and by the general public. However, the potential adverse health impact of prolonged sitting (which is something that we do on average for more than half of our day), is only just being realized."

Healy went on to explain, "Our research showed that even small changes, which could be as little as standing up for one minute, might help to lower this health risk. It is likely that regular breaks in prolonged sitting time could be readily incorporated into the working environment without any detrimental impact on productivity. 'Stand up, move more, more often' could be used as a slogan to get this message across."

Some ways to avoid the ill effects of prolonged sitting include:
  • Standing up to take phone calls
  • Walking to see a colleague rather than phoning or emailing
  • Having standing meetings or encouraging regular breaks during meetings for people to stand up
  • Going to a bathroom on a different floor
  • Centralizing things such as trash cans and printers so that you need to walk to them
  • Taking the stairs instead of the elevator where possible.

Healy concluded: "Prolonged sedentary time is likely to increase with future technological and social innovations, and it is important to avoid prolonged periods of sitting and to move more throughout the day. While further evidence of a causal nature is required, less sitting time would be unlikely to do harm. It would, at the very least, contribute to increased overall levels of daily energy expenditure and could help to prevent weight gain."

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