Fight Negative Effects Of A Sedentary Lifestyle By Walking In Between Bouts Of Sitting: It Improves Blood Sugar

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Walking — especially in nature — can improve focus and mental health, as well as maintain your blood sugar levels. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Researchers have discovered yet another benefit of breaking up your sitting time to walk. In a new study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism (JCEM), researchers from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that children who took three-minute breaks to walk during a TV marathon or other sedentary activities saw an improvement in their blood sugar.

Blood sugar is essential to maintaining health and metabolism. Type 2 diabetes involves a buildup of too much sugar in the blood and can damage nerves and blood vessels. Insulin maintains blood sugar at a normal level, but people with type 2 diabetes need insulin shots in order to stay on track. High blood sugar can cause fatigue, thirst, blurry vision — and a variety of other chronic diseases long-term, like heart disease or obesity.

The researchers studied 28 normal-weight children, aged 7 to 11 years old, over the course of two days. The participants sat for three hours, either continuously or with three-minute breaks every half hour to walk on a treadmill. They had their blood sugar and insulin levels measured before and after the sitting/walking, and drank a sugary drink so the researchers could measure how the sugar was processed. They found that taking breaks to walk lowered the children’s blood sugar and insulin levels.

“Interrupting a long period of sitting with a few minutes of moderate activity can have short-term benefits on a child’s metabolism,” Dr. Jack Yanovski, an author of the study, said in the press release. “While we know getting 30 minutes or more of moderate intensity exercise each day improves children’s health and metabolism, small behavioral changes like taking short walking breaks can also yield some benefits.”

More and more research is showing that sedentary living can have both short-term and long-term ill effects on your mind and body. One recent study found that constantly sitting down can make your anxiety and mental health worse, as well as lead to an increased likelihood of depression. There are numerous other parts of the body that sitting impacts — including your heart, brain, immune system, metabolism, musculoskeletal system, and even lungs. Sitting too much creates bad posture, which in turn places pressure on your lungs and organs, impairing your ability to breathe deeply and get good amounts of oxygen to the brain. Research has shown that walking — especially in nature — can boost attention, concentration, mental health, and overall well-being.

“Sustained sedentary behavior after a meal diminishes the muscles’ ability to help clear sugar from the bloodstream,” Britni Belcher, an author of the study, said in the press release. “That forces the body to produce more insulin, which may increase the risk for beta cell dysfunction that can lead to the onset of type 2 diabetes. Our findings suggest even short activity breaks can help overcome these negative effects, at least in the short term.”

While some research has shown that even working out every day may not offset the negative effects of sitting, the new study suggests that little things can make a difference. So even when you can’t make it to the gym, get up and walk around every half hour to keep your blood sugar levels normal.

“Interrupting sedentary time with brief moderate-intensity walking improved short-term metabolic function in non-overweight children without increasing subsequent energy intake,” the authors write in the conclusion. “These findings suggest that interrupting sedentary behavior may be a promising prevention strategy for reducing cardiometabolic risk in children.”

Source: Belcher B, Berrigan D, Papachrisotopoulou A, Brady S, Berinstein S, Brychta R. Effects of Interrupting Children’s Sedentary Behaviors With Activity on Metabolic Function: A Randomized Trial. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. 2015.

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