If you’re overweight and spend your day at a desk job, you’re at increased risk for diabetes - but you may be able to reverse that trend and help control blood sugar simply by taking "activity breaks.” New research from Australia found that regular, short breaks - as little as two minutes, three times an hour - during which you move around can result in a 30 percent improvement in the body’s response to high calorie meals. The researchers recruited 19 men and women, 45 to 65 years of age, who were overweight or obese, to engage in three experiments that took place six days apart. For the first investigation, the participants sat for five hours with no break; for the second one, they sat for five hours, but took a two minute break every 20 minutes and walked on a treadmill at a light-intensity pace; for the third one, they took the same breaks but picked up their pace on the treadmill to moderate intensity. Before each session, the participants received a test drink containing 75 grams of glucose and 50 grams of fat to simulate a high calorie meal. The 30 percent improvements in sugar metabolism differed little between walking at light or moderate intensity. The study was published online on February 28, 2012 by Diabetes Care.
My take? If the findings from this small study are confirmed by further research, they could be of enormous benefit to a lot of people who don’t get any regular exercise because they’re desk-bound all day. An active two-minute break every 20 minutes would add up to 48 minutes of exercise during an eight-hour working day. That could pay off even more than the 30 percent improvement seen in this study. And it might encourage inactive individuals to fit more exercise into their after-work hours. We all should strive to do something aerobic every day, some activity that gets your heart beating faster and your breathing going, and some sweat appearing on your skin. For maximum benefit to your cardiovascular system, aerobic activity should be continuous and sustained for more than a few minutes. My recommendation is to work toward the goal of doing thirty minutes of some type of aerobic activity at least five days a week.