Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN
American Institute for Cancer Research
Q: Is it true that simply taking short breaks to walk around throughout the day actually has an impact on health?
A: Yes, evidence continues to grow stronger suggesting that it does. Accumulating a total of at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity a day in bouts of 10 or 15 minutes each has been shown for some time to improve fitness and measures of heart health, such as blood lipids and blood pressure, and body composition. Now studies suggest that even doing mini-bouts of a few minutes that add up to at least 30 minutes over the day might also reduce health risks. A review article published this year concluded that short bouts of frequent activity throughout the day may decrease blood triglyceride levels following meals, enough to lower risk of heart disease. And in one study, 70 adults who walked for less than two minutes every 30 minutes throughout one day more effectively reduced the rise in blood sugar and insulin following meals compared to when those same adults who walked for 30 minutes and then sat all day. More research is needed, especially among people with the insulin resistance of type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome. However, scientists say we know enough to encourage people whose day includes a lot of sitting to include some standing or brief walking every hour or so all day. It’s good to know that when we’re too busy or out-of-condition to walk for even 10 minutes at a time, small breaks do seem to make a difference. Yet since accumulating more than 30 minutes of moderate activity daily brings clear health benefits, such as reducing cancer risk, don’t think of short activity breaks as a substitute for other activity; think of them as an easy way to get even more health benefits.
The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) is the cancer charity that fosters research on the relationship of nutrition, physical activity and weight management to cancer risk, interprets the scientific literature and educates the public about the results. It has contributed more than $96 million for innovative research conducted at universities, hospitals and research centers across the country. AICR has published two landmark reports that interpret the accumulated research in the field, and is committed to a process of continuous review. AICR also provides a wide range of educational programs to help millions of Americans learn to make dietary changes for lower cancer risk. Its award-winning New American Plate program is presented in brochures, seminars and on its website, www.aicr.org. AICR is a member of the World Cancer Research Fund International.