Can a short walk – or even washing dishes or taking out the trash -- really improve your health? A new study from the American Council on Exercise says the answer is a resounding “yes.”
The study – conducted by researchers at Western State Colorado University – found that middle-aged and older adults who take a few minutes each hour of the day to break up patterns of sedentary behavior reported important gains in their overall health.
The research focused on 13 adults, all of whom faced a health issue of some type, including dyslipidemia (an abnormal amount of fats in the blood), high blood pressure or high fasting blood glucose levels.
Just one week of modest movement for five minutes each hour resulted in a significant health boost, the study found. Reported benefits included:
- A 21.2 percent increase in HDL – or so-called “good” -- cholesterol
- A 24.6 percent healthy decrease in triglycerides
- A 6.1 percent reduction in blood sugar
Surprisingly, the researchers found that the health gains associated with a few minutes of low-intensity activity each hour surpassed the benefits linked to many standard exercise programs.
Small actions, big results
Jessica Matthews, senior advisor for integrative wellness for the American Council on Exercise, says the study findings reinforce an important message.
“Small actions done consistently do in fact lead to measurable, meaningful and lasting changes in health and well-being,” she says.
Matthews says she is especially impressed by how relatively modest levels of activity appear to be directly linked to clear decreases in triglycerides and blood glucose levels, as well as an increase in HDL (“good”) cholesterol.
“These findings support the fact that movement is a no-cost form of medicine for both the mind and the body,” she says.
By incorporating such small movements into your daily routine, you can effectively manage -- and even prevent -- many lifestyle-related illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease.
Tips for breaking up sedentary behavior
Matthews – who is also an ACE-certified master health coach and an International Consortium for Health & Wellness Coaching national board-certified health and wellness coach – says everybody can use the new information as inspiration to add more activity to their day.
For example, to remind yourself of the need to move, Matthews suggests setting the timer or alarm function on your phone for every 60 minutes.
“I personally recommend setting it on the vibrate function so that you can be alerted discretely,” she says.
Each time the alarm sounds or vibrates, use at as a cue to break up periods of sedentary behavior by moving for at least five minutes.
“At home, this could be folding laundry, preparing a healthy dinner, washing dishes or simply tidying up around the house,” Matthews says.
At work, you could walk over to a co-worker’s desk to ask a question instead of picking up the phone or typing an email.
Other examples of modest movement in the office include standing up and lightly pacing back and forth during conference calls, or taking a brief walk down the hallway to the water cooler to fill up your cup.
If setting an alarm for once an hour is not feasible, at least try for every two hours. If you stretch the interval to two hours, make your “movement” break last 10 minutes, Matthews says.
Whatever pattern you choose, the key is to stick with it. The study researchers found that the health benefits of modest hourly activity disappear just one week after returning to sedentary patterns of behavior.