Got 2 Minutes? Get Up and Walk. And Turn Off the Television.

While much in life can feel complicated, two new studies and a New York Times report offer some simple guidance for improving one’s healthy outcomes: Walk for two minutes and turn off the television.

Of course, it’s not quite that simple. But as the New York Times states: “As most of us have heard by now, long bouts of sitting can increase someone’s risk for diabetes, heart disease, obesity, kidney problems and premature death. These risks remain elevated even if someone exercises but then spends most of the rest of his or her waking hours in a chair.”

One new study comes from researchers at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, titled “Light-Intensity Physical Activities and Mortality in the United States General Population and CKD Subpopulation.” They conducted “observational analysis of the 2003-2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey examined the associations of low- and light-intensity activities with mortality.”

According to the New York Times:

“What they found was unexpected. A low-intensity activity like standing, by itself, had little effect on mortality risk… But those who walked around after standing, replacing some of their sitting time with a light-intensity activity like strolling, gained a substantial benefit in terms of mortality risk.” Even two minutes of gentle walking was associated with lower premature death rates (key: the study notes association, not causality).

And then there’s the television.

Another study to be published in Diabetologia :

“The impact of lifestyle intervention on sedentary time in individuals at high risk of diabetes” — found, according to the New York Times, “that every hour that overweight adults spent watching television, which is a handy way to measure sitting time at home, increased their risk of becoming diabetic by 3.4 percent. Most of the participants were watching nearly three hours a day.”

The study concluded: “Individuals with lower levels of sedentary time had a lower risk of developing diabetes. Future lifestyle intervention programmes should emphasise reducing television watching and other sedentary behaviours in addition to increasing physical activity.”

Study: Key Interventions to ‘Reduce Workplace Sitting’

Regular readers of this blog know that among the keys to a well-run workplace wellness program is incorporating movement — or the reduction of workplace sitting — into the program design.

For example, we cited a New York Times report, that indicated that employees who are always wandering — or pacing — around may be the ones to emulate, and insight that could provide important insights into a well-run workplace wellness program.

We also noted a study titled “Prolonged sitting negatively affects the postprandial plasma triglyceride-lowering effect of acute exercise.” It concludes that the test results “[underscore] the importance of limiting sitting time even in people who have exercised.”

But a challenge for workplace wellness programs also can be engagement — even a well-designed program has to get employees out of their seats.

The study is titled “Intervening to reduce workplace sitting: mediating role of social-cognitive constructs during a cluster randomised controlled trial” and is published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity.

As background, “the Stand Up Victoria multi-component intervention successfully reduced workplace sitting time in both the short (three months) and long (12 months) term. To further understand how this intervention worked, we aimed to assess the impact of the intervention on four social-cognitive constructs, and examined whether these constructs mediated intervention effects on workplace sitting time at 3 and 12 months post-baseline.”

The researchers took a thorough approach:

“Two hundred and thirty one office-based workers (14 worksites, single government employer) were randomised to intervention or control conditions by worksite. The intervention comprised organisational, environmental, and individual level elements. Participant characteristics and social-cognitive constructs (perceived behavioural control, barrier self-efficacy, perceived organisational norms and knowledge) were measured through a self-administered online survey at baseline, 3 months and 12 months.”

The results provide insights into how to motivate employees not only to understand the importance of movement in the workplace, but also how to take action:

“Strategies that aim to increase workers’ perceived control and self-efficacy over their sitting time may be helpful components of sedentary behavior interventions in the workplace.”

The study further notes:

“However, social-cognitive factors only partially explain variation in workplace sitting reduction. Understanding the importance of other levels of influence (particularly interpersonal and environmental) for initiating and maintaining workplace sedentary behavior change will be informative for intervention development and refinement.”

University Expert to Office Employees: Stop Sitting So Much

We have been very consistent about the risks of sitting too much at work and the importance of making regular movement a key feature in any well-run workplace wellness program.

Recently we posted Murat Dalkilinç’s engaging, useful, and educational video for Ted-Ed: Why sitting is bad for you. The text intro states: “Sitting down for brief periods can help us recover from stress or recuperate from exercise. But nowadays, our lifestyles make us sit much more than we move around. Are our bodies built for such a sedentary existence?”

We also reported on a study published in The American Journal of Physiology — Endocrinology and Metabolism, which directly compared exercisers who also sit extensively with those who are more active generally. The findings suggest that a single vigorous workout may do little to counter the effects of prolonged sitting, while strolling around frequently in addition to exercising does seem to keep the harm at bay.”

The study is titled “Prolonged sitting negatively affects the postprandial plasma triglyceride-lowering effect of acute exercise.” It concludes that the test results “[underscore] the importance of limiting sitting time even in people who have exercised.”

Now an instructor with Creighton University’s new Healthy Lifestyles Management program discussed the issue with KETV-Omaha, which reports: “hat chair or couch you’re sitting on right now may shorten your life. Most of us spend 13 hours or more a day sitting down and experts say that’s eating away at your health and perhaps your life span, just as much as smoking cigarettes might harm your health.”

Creighton’s Linda Kenedy “did an interview, standing at her computer. She uses a convertible desk that allows her to sit or stand. She said sitting too much is killing Americans and aiding in increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, depression and cancer.”

Said Kenedy: “When you sit, your body just kind of shuts down. Your body is meant to move and when we sit at work all day, we’re in a position of rest, so we’re not burning as many calories, our muscles aren’t firing.” .

The piece continues: “Kenedy said taking frequent breaks from sitting, say 5 minute every hour, can make all the difference. ‘When we stand, our back, your core, your muscles are turned on, functioning as they’re supposed to. And they’re holding up your spine and head and neck. our posture is better than when we’re sitting,’ she said.”

“Kenedy encourages standup meetings, and taking the long route to the copy machine or bathroom to work in more steps during the day.”

The video interview with Kenedy can be found here.

You Still Might Be Sitting Too Much

Can you move regularly — even a lot — and still be considered “sedentary?”

This fascinating question was raised by the New York Times (or, at least, a reader): Does Taking Fewer Than 5,000 Steps a Day Make You Sedentary?

As the piece notes, physical activity is fairly clear: It means movement, or even standing. Sedentary activity means sitting: Such as driving one’s car or working at one’s desk. And while that might seem to indicate that engaging in physical activity necessarily means that one is not sedentary, that’s actually not the case.

Dr. Russell Pate, a professor of exercise science at the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina, told the New York Times that one can be regularly active, yet “still engage in a great deal of sedentary behavior. And I believe that such a pattern is quite common in our current society.”

The piece states:

“In other words, you can take 5,000 steps in a day or 10,000, meaning that you would cover either about 2.5 or 5 miles. But in both cases, if you concentrate those steps into a single session of exercise and then spend the rest of your waking hours slumped in a desk chair or in front of a television, you will be more sedentary than active.”

In other words: Even if you’re regularly active, too much sitting is still something to watch out for — and avoid.

One reason becomes clear in a recent study in the Journal of Applied Physiology, titled “Motor Unit Number and Transmission Stability in Octogenarian World Class Athletes: Can Age-Related Deficits Be Outrun?

In this study, authors “measured functioning motor units (MU) numbers and neuromuscular transmission stability in the tibialis anterior of world champion [masters athletes] (~80y), and compared the values to healthy age-matched controls (~80y).”

As expected, the masters athletes’ legs were strong. However, as the New York Times reports:

“More interesting to the researchers, the athletes also had almost 30 percent more motor units in their leg muscle tissue, and these units were functioning better than those of people in the sedentary group. In the control group, many of the electrical messages from the motor neuron to the muscle showed signs of “jitter and jiggle,” which are actual scientific terms for signals that stutter and degrade before reaching the muscle fiber. Such weak signaling often indicates a motor neuron that is approaching death.”

Sit More, Live Less?

Sitting-at-workWe knew that sitting is the new smoking… might it also be tied to shorter life span?

The American Journal of Preventative Medicine published a new study titled “All-Cause Mortality Attributable to Sitting Time.” The outline: “Recent studies have shown that sitting time is associated with increased risk of all-cause mortality, independent of moderate to vigorous physical activity. Less is known about the population-attributable fraction for all-cause mortality associated with sitting time, and the gains in life expectancy related to the elimination of this risk factor.”

The conclusion delivers important information for office workers (and others) who sit too much: Indeed, it could be connected to shorter lifespans.

States the study: “Assuming that the effect of sitting time on all-cause mortality risk is independent of physical activity, reducing sitting time plays an important role in active lifestyle promotion, which is an important aspect of premature mortality prevention worldwide.”

But there’s good news in that there’s a simple way to address the potential issue: Get up and move. In writing about the AJPM study, the New York Times reports: “Sitting too much may increase the risk of dying prematurely, while replacing sitting time with just standing or moderate physical activity could counteract the effect.”

The NYT reports that researchers “estimated mean sitting time across countries at 4.7 hours a day. Reducing that time by 50 percent, they calculated, would result in a 2.3 percent decline in all-cause mortality.”

And finding ways to become more active in the workplace don’t have to be complicated.

As the lead author, Leandro Rezende, a doctoral candidate at the University of São Paulo School of Medicine, is reported by the NYT as saying: “There are things we can do. Stand up, and go have a drink of water instead of keeping the water bottle at your desk. Or just stand up every so often. Standing alone increases your energy expenditure.”

How Architects Might Improve Workplace Wellness

Could the obstacle to your workplace wellness program’s success be a lack of architects?

Active Design is defined as “the translation of health research into design solutions that amplify the role of architecture and urban planning in improving public health and well-being,” by New York Center for Active Design.

According to a fascinating report by the architecture and design firm KI:

“As more and more companies embrace worker wellness, many are turning to the architectural and design communities for workspace solutions in support of a healthier workforce. Turning those sedentary office environments into spaces that can encourage healthier lifestyles is the central idea behind Active Design.”

As described by the Society for Human Resource Management, this means “the process of structuring the workplace to inherently promote movement.” In other words, perhaps your office space design creates an unintended impediment to wellness promotion.

To understand what options might work best, KI “conducted with professionals from top architecture and design firms, as well as a series of extensive surveys.

One survey considered the perspectives of more than 100 average office workers.

A second survey was sent to more than 100 workplace industry practitioners including architects, designers, and workplace strategists.” The study is titled “Understanding Active Design: The Rise of Human Sustainability.”

The firm’s hypothesis: “There are clear benefits from encouraging movement throughout the day. Therefore, creating environments that intuitively promote activity must become an indispensable part of wellness in the workplace.”

The result: “Nine best practices built on feedback from KI interviews and surveys with workplace design professionals and employees that can help accomplish effective Active Design.” These include:

  • Implement Daylighting
  • Create a Variety of Work Spaces
  • Encourage Face-to-Face Communications
  • Offer Healthy Food Options
  • Encourage Movement at Work
  • Design Flexible, Open Multi-Use Spaces
  • Subconsciously Inspire People to Take Stairs
  • Incorporate Height-Adjustable Worksurfaces
  • Allocate Outdoor Workspace