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Sitting, Standing & Intermittent Walking - UPDATED

Do you know of any studies regarding standing at your desk vs. sitting? It's becoming more common to have workstations modified so one can stand or even walk at a slow pace rather than sit. I would be interested to hear your views.

A: The data supporting the benefits of being more active, including standing vs. sitting, is excellent. As a result, standing desks and treadmill desks have become quite popular. While I think a standing desk is fine (as long as it works for you), I am very leery of how well these treadmill desks (as opposed to standing desks) will work out and there are already some small preliminary studies showing concerns. It's one thing to stand & work but it's another to try to walk on a treadmill & work. (Click titles for study access)

In the end, these are all just attempts to find ways to be more active, which for many, is also a way to compensate for their excess calories and unhealthy food choices. However, until we learn to adopt a truly healthy diet, I don't see these as true solutions as the main problem for most, is excess calories.

In addition, the amount of activity that is really required to achieve all the health benefits we get from exercise is not that much and could be accomplished in ~30 (- 45) minutes, 5-6 days/wk. I think we really need to re-evaluate our lives and our priorities if we can't make the time for that.

Time & The Double-Edged Sword of Modern Conveniences

However, if you’re looking to increase active, non-sitting time, Intermittent Walking is a safe & healthy alternative to treadmill desks. There have been several studies demonstrating the benefits of Intermittent Walking. It is a concept I use all the time.

Intermittent Walking is the practice of getting up and going for a brief period of walking, or other activity/exercise, throughout the day. Years ago, when I worked a desk job, I used to get up every hour and go walking around the location for about 5-10 minutes. (It also helped me to think clearer)

Here are the studies...

(Click titles for study access)

"Overweight/obese adults (n = 19), aged 45–65 years, were recruited for a randomized three-period, three-treatment acute crossover trial: 1) uninterrupted sitting; 2) seated with 2-min bouts of light-intensity walking every 20 min; and 3) seated with 2-min bouts of moderate-intensity walking every 20 min. A standardized test drink was provided after an initial 2-h period of uninterrupted sitting. The positive incremental area under curves (iAUC) for glucose and insulin (mean [95% CI]) for the 5 h after the test drink (75 g glucose, 50 g fat) were calculated for the respective treatments.

"Interrupting sitting time with short bouts of light- or moderate-intensity walking lowers postprandial glucose and insulin levels in overweight/obese adults. This may improve glucose metabolism and potentially be an important public health and clinical intervention strategy for reducing cardiovascular risk."

(NOTE: The walking speed for the light intensity was 2 mph and for the moderate-intensity was about 3.7 mph.)

“Inactive older (≥60 years of age) participants (N = 10) were recruited from the community and were nonsmoking, with a BMI <35 kg m−2 and a fasting blood glucose concentration between 105 and 125 mg dL−1. Participants completed three randomly ordered exercise protocols spaced 4 weeks apart. Each protocol comprised a 48-h stay in a whole-room calorimeter, with the first day serving as the control day. On the second day, participants engaged in either 1) postmeal walking for 15 min or 45 min of sustained walking performed at 2) 10:30 a.m. or 3) 4:30 p.m.. All walking was on a treadmill at an absolute intensity of 3 METs." (NOTE: This is about 2.5 mph)

"Moreover, postmeal walking was significantly (P < 0.01) more effective than 45 min of sustained morning or afternoon walking in lowering 3-h post dinner glucose between the control and experimental day."

"Seventy adults participated in a randomized crossover study. The prolonged sitting intervention involved sitting for 9 h, the physical activity intervention involved walking for 30 min and then sitting, and the regular-activity-break intervention involved walking for 1 min 40 s every 30 min."

"Regular activity breaks were more effective than continuous physical activity at decreasing postprandial glycemia and insulinemia in healthy, normal-weight adults."


“Twelve non-obese men participated in two randomized 3hr sitting trials. In the sitting (SIT) trial, subjects were seated on a firmly cushioned chair for 3hr without moving their lower extremities. In the breaking sitting time trial (ACT), subjects sat similar to the SIT trial, but walked on a treadmill for five min at 2 miles·hr at 30min, 1hr 30min, and 2hr 30min during the sitting interval.”

“Three hours of sitting resulted in a significant impairment in shear rate and superficial femoral artery (SFA) flow mediated dilation (FMD). When light activity breaks were introduced hourly during sitting, the decline in FMD was prevented.”

So, while they all looked at different protocols and different end points, the main message is the same, and that is that Intermittent Walking (getting up and walking either once or a few times every hour for a few minutes) and getting up and walking after a meal for 15 minutes are both helpful in controlling daily and post prandial blood sugars without requiring great effort.

In Health



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