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New study: Movement breaks can help your health

A man and a woman stand in an open office, smiling as they look at her phone

Feb. 1, 2024—You already know sitting too much is bad for your health. Long periods of sitting increase your risk for obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and even early death. But you don't have to quit your office job to offset the dangers of sitting at work.

A new study published in JAMA Network Open has good news. Even if you spend your daytime hours sitting at a desk, you can still cut the health risks. The study found that just 15 to 30 minutes of daily exercise can reduce your risks to the same levels as people who spend most of the day on their feet. And that's true even if you break the active minutes up throughout the day.

The study included more than 480,000 Taiwanese adults. Researchers followed up with them between 1996 and 2017. Participants were grouped into three categories based on whether they spent their workdays:

  • Mostly sitting.
  • Alternating between sitting and standing or moving.
  • Mostly standing or moving.

The researchers collected information about sitting time at work, physical activity during leisure time, lifestyle habits and other health metrics. They analyzed the data in December 2020, looking specifically at the link between the amount of time a person sat during work and their risk of early death and cardiovascular disease.

Here are some key findings:

  • People who mostly sat at work had a 16% higher risk of early death from all causes compared to people who mostly stood and moved.
  • Sitters also had a 34% higher risk of early death from cardiovascular disease compared to the group who spent most of the day standing or moving.
  • People who switched between sitting and moving throughout the day did not have an increased risk of death compared with the mostly standing and moving group.

That means there are major benefits to stacking your workday with microbursts of physical activity. Here's how:

  • If you sit at work, schedule movement breaks during the day. Use your phone's alarm to remind you to stand up and get active. If you can, try to make time to move every half hour.
  • In your leisure time, consider active hobbies, such as hiking, gardening or bicycling.
  • Switch to a standing desk, if you can. Take phone calls or meetings on your feet when possible.
  • Every little bit counts. Do a few lunges, take a one-song dance break, walk a lap around your office or straighten up for a few minutes.

Need even more inspiration? Check these ideas for fun, 10-minute fitness breaks you can fit into your daily life.


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