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Taking Breaks From Sitting Improves Glucose Measures in Adults With Obesity

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Taking Breaks From Sitting Improves Glucose Measures in Adults With Obesity

Getting up twice each hour to move for a few minutes led to improved glucose measurements in sedentary adults with obesity, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Physiology — Endocrinology and Metabolism.

There has been an ongoing debate among researchers concerning just how bad for your health sitting for prolonged periods is. A large body of research shows that it increases the risk for obesity and type 2 diabetes, while it may not actually increase the overall risk of dying. To make matters worse, even getting regular exercise doesn’t seem to fully counteract the harmful effects of sitting for long periods. There has been some good recent news, though, showing that a good diet may help limit the harmful effect of sitting on blood glucose levels.

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For the latest study, researchers were interested in whether breaking up extended periods of sitting — by sending participants reminders to get up and exercise — could lead to improvements in blood glucose levels. The participants were 16 sedentary adults (10 men and 6 women) with a median age of 50 years and a median body-mass index (BMI, a measure of body weight that takes height into account) of 32, which falls in the category of obese. For four weeks, participants wore a continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) device as well as a smartwatch that acted as an activity monitor. After the first week, when participants went about their regular lives, they were randomly assigned to one of two study groups. The control group continued with their regular routines, while the intervention group received notifications throughout the day on their smartwatch as a reminder to get up and move around. These notifications were sent every 30 minutes starting at 8:00 am and ending at 6:00 pm, and instructed participants to move around for three minutes.

Increased physical activity breaks linked to reduced glucose levels

In addition to CGM data, blood glucose control was assessed through an oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) taken both before and after the study period. The researchers found that compared with before the exercise intervention, daily glucose variation fell by an average of 2%, while fasting glucose dropped by an average of 6.1 mg/dl. No overall change was seen in OGTT results. What’s more, participants in the exercise intervention group saw their step count increase by a median of 744 per day, and their walking time increase by a median of 10.4 minutes per day.

While these benefits may appear fairly small, they could add up to substantially better health outcomes in the long term if they were widely adopted by people who tend to sit for long periods during the day — and possibly even more so when combined with other exercise interventions. “This intervention may represent the minimal dose for breaking sedentary behavior, with larger volumes of activity possibly required to promote greater health benefits,” the researchers concluded.

Want to learn more about blood glucose management? See our “Blood Sugar Chart,” then read “Blood Sugar Monitoring: When to Check and Why” and “Strike the Spike II: How to Manage High Blood Glucose After Meals.”

Quinn Phillips

Quinn Phillips

Quinn Phillips on social media

A freelance health writer and editor based in Wisconsin, Phillips has a degree from Harvard University. He is a former Editorial Assistant for Diabetes Self-Management and has years of experience covering diabetes and related health conditions. Phillips writes on a variety of topics, but is especially interested in the intersection of health and public policy.

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