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Micro workouts: a potential antidote to the health hazards of sitting

Sep 21, 2022
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Table of Contents

People spend around 10 hours sitting every day. You may be shocked by this fact at first sight, but it is easy to recognize its veracity. Many people work in a sitting position all day. Once they get home, they continue in this position to watch TV or use computers and cell phones. During the Covid-19 pandemic, this scenario got worse. Many jobs that once required more standing time have been adapted and become more sedentary.

It’s no news that sedentary behavior is one of the great villains of health nowadays. Despite this, how many hours a person spends sitting every day not always were a topic of interest.

To tackle physical inactivity, professionals have always focused on encouraging people to engage in regular physical exercise programs. In the same way, most scientific research in health and physical activity has predominantly pursued establishing the best exercise training models. HIIT or continuous? Up to failure or not? Thirty minutes a day is enough? How many sets or repetitions?

These are just a few questions that science has addressed in the last few decades. There is no debate regarding the relevance of these topics. However, the predominance of this approach marginalized behavior-related health topics for a long time.

But that has changed. In recent years, unhealthy behaviors have been under the spotlight, and much has been uncovered.

Here’s the news for you who sit in the office most of the time but exercise weekly. Even if you be classified as an active person by the main guidelines, that behavior is not enough to eliminate the health risks related to sitting time.

It’s evident that sedentary behavior is associated with poor health outcomes, but below are some interesting results linked to sitting time from a study performed by Dr. Claude Bouchard and colleagues at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center.

  • The death rate among active people who spend almost all day sitting and those who are sedentary but spend half of that time standing is the same.

  • Obese people who avoid sitting for at least half the day have about the same death rate as slim people who sit all day.

  • Decreasing sitting time by 25% reduces the death rate in obese and inactive people significantly.

  • To eliminate the risk of death associated with 8 hours or more of daily sitting time, one must perform moderate-vigorous exercise at least 7 hours a week! One hour a day! If you sit between 6 and 8 hours a day, you need to exercise at that intensity for at least 1 hour a day for 5 days a week.

These are just a few findings that show why reducing the sitting time has been a trend in recent years when it comes to strategies to tackle sedentary behavior.

Decreasing sitting time should be a lifetime target for active and inactive people.

Active breaks can offset the damage

Most of the sitting time for an average person is at work. Since stopping work is not an option (in general), taking a few breaks during work to interrupt prolonged sitting time is a reasonable alternative.

The idea of interrupting the office tasks may seem a little unproductive at first glance, but it’s not.

In fact, many companies have already instituted some breaks during working hours. Generally, these breaks comprise stretching exercises to reduce pain associated with repetitive movements. Nevertheless, taking a break can bring other benefits directly linked to productivity improvements, by the way.

Alertness, self-perception of energy levels, mood, fatigue, and cognitive performance are just some parameters that can indicate the performance of executive tasks.

Taking breaks to stay in the standing position can be enough for you to improve some of the parameters above, such as alertness.

Micro workouts may even increase alertness throughout the working day

However, be aware that you can take the break to the next level by performing micro-workouts!

As the name suggests, micro-workouts are short physical training routines that can be as short as 1 or 15 minutes. Micro-workouts can comprise walking and aerobics exercises, resistance exercises, or a combination of these training models.

Based on current evidence, it would be presumptuous to say what type and duration of micro-workout would be most effective in improving each parameter mentioned above. However, the results are promising. You should keep an eye out.

Here are some exciting findings:

The findings are really promising. But if you still need more reasons to get into the habit of taking a break, no problem. Evidence also shows that taking 3-minute breaks to perform resistance or aerobic exercises can help lower insulin resistance, blood pressure, and adrenaline blood levels!

For many people, performing micro-workouts may be a more suitable strategy than 1 hour of exercise continuously. Please don’t blame yourself if you’re one of those who can’t stick to an exercise program. We have to agree that taking time out of the day to exercise without a functional purpose is not natural. This does not mean that taking care of health is not a noble reason. But, in the early days of humanity, humans needed to be physically active to survive. Planting, hunting, and building your home are some examples of essential functional purposes. Today, we don’t need to exercise as much.

A positive aspect of micro-workouts is the possibility to manage them according to your context. While further investigation is needed to determine the best micro-workout models, you will likely benefit regardless of the type of exercise you do. Nevertheless, speaking of alertness, there is more evidence about the benefits of aerobic exercises over strength exercises.

For those who perform strength training regularly, aerobics (e.g. going for a walk or doing some jumping jacks) during breaks can be a good choice. For the runners and cyclists, the opposite applies: strength training exercises like pushups or squats will work well.

You can train using a TRX or your own body weight. Aerobic training can be accomplished by walking around the place where you work. You can vary the break duration depending on your working conditions. Fewer yet longer breaks (e.g. 5 minutes once per hour) or many shorter breaks (e.g. 1 minute break every 15 minutes) are both helpful options for breaking up bouts of sitting. There is more evidence favoring longer breaks than short ones (< 3min), but if you can’t stop for 5 min, short breaks are better than nothing.

If you are interested in giving micro-workouts a shot, set up a timer app on your phone to go off every fifteen/thirty minutes or install an app like Focus Bear that will take over your computer/phone every 15 or 30 minutes to force you to do a workout.

This blog post was first published in Medium

Sep 21, 2022

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