A five-minute walk every half hour alleviates the effects of prolonged sitting.

There is growing evidence that prolonged sitting – something that is all too common these days – is harmful to your health, even if you exercise regularly. A team from Columbia University (USA) has now shown in an experimental study that getting up from a chair and walking for just five minutes every half hour can counteract some of the most harmful effects.

The results of this work led by Keith Diaz, professor of behavioral medicine at the American university, are published this week in the American College of Sports Medicine.

Participants sat in an ergonomic chair for eight hours, getting up only for the prescribed activity on the treadmill or to go to the bathroom.

As Diaz comments to SINC, “We already knew that sitting for a long time is dangerous to health because it changes the way the body regulates blood sugar levels and creates conditions in the blood vessels that increase blood pressure.”

Unlike other studies that make one or two activity options, in this research the authors tested five different exercise ‘snacks’: one minute of walking every 30 minutes sitting down, one minute every 60 minutes, five minutes every 30 minutes, five minutes every 60 and no walking.

Each of the 11 adults who participated in the experiment came to Diaz’s lab, where they sat in an ergonomic chair for eight hours, getting up only for the prescribed activity of walking on the treadmill or going to the bathroom. The volunteers were aged between 40 and 60, and most did not have diabetes or high blood pressure.

The researchers made sure these people did not exercise too much or too little, and they regularly measured their blood pressure and blood sugar levels (key indicators of cardiovascular health). Volunteers were able to work on a laptop, read and use their phones during sessions, and were provided with standardized meals.

Lowering blood sugar and blood pressure

“We found that the optimal amount of movement was walking for five minutes every 30 minutes. This was the dose that significantly lowered blood sugar and blood pressure.”

Specifically, he adds, “this activity regimen reduced the blood sugar spike by 58% after eating, compared to sitting all day. That’s a really significant amount, similar to the reductions that would be seen if someone used insulin shots or diabetes medication to control their sugar,” says Diaz.

The researcher adds that “a brisk five-minute walk every half hour also lowered blood pressure by between 4 and 5 mmHg. This reduction is similar to what you would expect if you exercised daily for six months. With these surprising results, we conclude that this simple activity can counteract some of the most harmful effects of prolonged sitting.”

This activity regimen reduced post-meal blood sugar spikes by 58% and lowered blood pressure by 4 to 5 mmHg, a reduction similar to what you would expect from daily exercise for six months.

Keith Diaz

To take the measurements, participants wore a continuous glucose monitor on the back of their arms. “This device has tiny sensors that automatically measure the amount of glucose in the body every 15 minutes. The volunteers received the same meals at the same time each visit, and the monitor allowed us to track blood sugar spikes after each meal,” explains Diaz.

“While it may seem impractical,” he continues, “this work shows that even short walks during the workday can significantly reduce the risk of heart disease and other chronic diseases.”

The team plans to expand the study and is currently testing another 25 ‘doses’ of walking and observing a wider range of people.

Occupational risk

When asked what employers would think about this recommendation to get up for a five-minute walk every half hour, Diaz responded that employers “should recognize that sitting for long periods of time is an occupational hazard. Until they recognize what is already a scientific certainty, namely that sitting is a major contributor to many chronic diseases and death, it will be difficult to address a major public health issue that has only gotten worse since the COVID-19 pandemic. Covid-19″ .

In addition to the physical health benefits of these short, regular walks, we also see positive mental effects.

He emphasizes that his study “provides clear guidance to employers on how to promote a healthier workplace. And we know that healthy employees are more efficient and productive.”

“In addition to the physical health benefits of these short, regular walks, we also see positive mental health effects.” This activity reduced feelings of fatigue and improved mood, notes Diaz, “so taking those short walks can help you be more productive than working non-stop.”

“Therefore, employers must recognize that taking regular walking breaks can be extremely beneficial, seeing it as unproductive work time is ultimately short-sighted, failing to recognize its value for health and productivity.”


Keith Diaz and others. “Breaking Extended Sitting to Improve Cardiometabolic Risk: Dose-Response Analysis of a Cross-Over Randomized Trial”. American College of Sports Medicine (2023).

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