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Office workers should walk around more

13th March 2012

Taking a break from sitting down every 20 minutes can have a marked effect on blood sugar and insulin levels among people who remain seated for long periods, a new study has shown.

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Walking around the room or down the corridor to the water cooler gets muscles moving again, and stops a build-up of blood sugar and insulin which can impair the body's metabolic response, according to a recent report in the journal Diabetes Care.

Researchers in Australia found that insulin and glucose levels in sedentary, overweight people fell considerably if they got up and moved about at least every 20 minutes.

Study lead author David Dunstan of Melbourne's Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute said that blood glucose and insulin levels will typically spike after eating, a phenomenon which is linked to a higher risk of heart disease and diabetes.

According to Dunstan's findings, the muscles of sedentary office workers are not contracting as they should in order to help regulate the body's metabolic processes.

Previous research by Dunstan's team has shown that people who spend more than four hours a day sitting in front of the television are at a higher risk of an early death.

Insulin levels rise after eating, sparked by an increase in blood glucose levels after food enters the digestive system. The hormone is used by the body's cells to burn or store energy after eating and bring down glucose levels.

Type 2 diabetes is a disruption of this process, meaning that the body becomes resistant to rises in insulin levels, so that both blood-sugar and insulin levels rise without falling.

For the purposes of the study, 19 overweight adults were recruited and asked to sit in a laboratory for seven hours. Their blood sugar and insulin levels were measured every hour.

The subjects were given a drink after two hours which had a high sugar and fat content, containing 763 calories. They were then asked to remain seated for a further five hours.

The process was repeated with each person three times, with a break of at least a week between days in the laboratory.

On the first day, only bathroom breaks were allowed, while the second included two-minute breaks to walk around the room every 20 minutes. The third day had the same frequency of breaks, but with more vigorous activity on each break than the second day.

Researchers found that light activity reduced blood sugar levels after the drink by around 24%, compared with the subjects who sat down all day. The subjects who carried out moderate intensity activity saw reductions in their blood sugar after eating of almost 30%.

The results were similar when insulin levels were compared between the groups.

University of Massachusetts professor Barry Braun said sitting down was shockingly bad for human health, and that people should try to get up about every 15 minutes to walk around if they are expected to remain seated for their jobs.

Dunstan said his team would now design a longer study to see whether the reduction in sugar and insulin levels actually translated into health benefits for sedentary people.

 


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