If you’re a reader of health news, there’s a good chance you’ve heard about the research looking at how office walking breaks can help your health. Now comes a small study suggesting that those breaks may also improve kids’ long-term metabolic health, which may lower their risk for adult cancers decades later.
The study found that children who break up their sitting with three minutes of walking every half hour had lower levels of blood glucose and insulin, compared to when they remained seated for three hours. It was published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. High blood glucose and insulin are risk factors for metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions that also links to increased cancer risk among adults.
According to government data, more than one third of children and teens are overweight or obese. Kids who are overweight are more likely to be overweight adults, and excess body fat among adults is a cause of ten cancers.
The study included 28 healthy, normal-weight children who were assigned to one of two groups. Children in the first group remained sitting for three hours where they watched movies, colored, did homework or other sedentary activity. Children in the second group alternated sitting with 3 minutes of moderate-intensity walking on a treadmill every 30 minutes for the three-hour period.
A week to a month later, the children flipped groups. Those who had only sat during the first session now sat and walked; those who sat and walked switched to being only sedentary.
For each session, the children drank a glucose-containing beverage – “glucola.” Every 30 minutes for three hours their blood was then tested to see how quickly their bodies absorbed glucose and how much insulin they produced. Afterwards, they were all offered a buffet lunch.
On the days they sat and walked for three hours, the children had blood glucose levels that were 7 percent lower on average than when they only sat. Their insulin levels were 32 percent lower. They also had lower levels of C-peptide, a compound produced by the pancreas that plays a role in controlling blood sugar.
And based on the amounts taken from the lunch buffet foods, researchers calculated that both groups ate similar amounts of calories and types of foods.
Not all studies on this have reached the same conclusions, the authors note. Another small study in 2013 found no measurable changes when children broke up eight hours of sitting time light activity every 20 minutes.
In adults, there is more research and it has pointed to how long bouts of sitting can cause health issues. We’re written about that here. And here, our Nutrition Advisor Karen Collins, MS, RDN, talks about the research on how taking short breaks can improve health.
Larger studies are needed, the authors conclude, but if those studies confirm their findings, interrupting periods of prolonged sitting with regular intervals of moderate-intensity walking might be a strategy to help reduce children’s risk of obesity and other chronic diseases.
The study was supported by the the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) at the National Institutes of Health.
We have strategies for helping kids stay active, visit our Healthy Kids site.