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Take a break from being lazy – your health depends on it!

Thursday, July 02, 2009 Posted by Peter Janiszewski, PhD

Not that long ago, Travis posted a great discussion of a recent study by Peter Katzmarzyk (whose graduate course in health epidemiology Travis and I have both taken) and colleagues from Pennington Biomedical Research Center which showed that increased time spent sitting was associated with greater risk of death from all causes and cardiovascular diseases. The most interesting aspect of this finding was that sitting time predicted mortality even when obesity and physical activity levels were considered. Thus, as Travis then stated, “This suggests that all things being equal (body weight, physical activity levels, smoking, alcohol intake, age, and sex) the person who sits more is at a higher risk of death than the person who sits less.”

Another study we have dug up in this very new area of research suggests that taking short breaks from being completely sedentary is associated with better metabolic health and adiposity.

The study was published last year in the journal Diabetes Care by Healy et al. using data from the large Australian Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle (AusDiab) Study.

A total of 168 men and women aged 30-87 years were required to wear an accelerometer (a measure of bodily movement) during all waking hours for 7 consecutive days. Total sedentary time was measured as the number of minutes/day during which the accelerometer had a count of less than 100/min – a level of activity associated with reading or typing. A break in sedentary behavior was defined as any interruption of at least one minute during which the accelerometer count rose above 100 counts/min. This level of activity is typical of standing from a sitting position or walking a short distance (i.e. bathroom).

And what did the study find?

The greater the number of breaks taken from sedentary behavior, the lower the waist circumference, body mass index, as well as blood lipids and glucose tolerance (a measure of diabetes risk). This was true even if the total amount of sedentary time and physical activity time were equal between individuals – the one who took breaks more frequently during their time at the office or while watching television was less obese and had better metabolic health. Importantly, the breaks taken by the individuals in this study were of a brief duration (<5 min) and a low intensity (such as walking to the washroom).

What are the practical implications of this study?

While we should all be aiming to limit the time spent in sedentary behavior and increasing our time spent performing moderate-intensity physical activity, for many of us working in front of computers, countless hours of sedentary time are inevitable. However, according to this study, simply taking frequent short breaks from being lazy may have significant implications on our health. For example, while writing this post (total time of approximately 1 hour) I have counted myself getting up from the computer 3 times – some of these ‘breaks’ were a mere 30 second walk to the kitchen to get a drink. Thus, getting out of your chair at work once every hour to walk to the washroom, or to fill up your bottle of water, or to chat with a co-worker may be a good way to get your ‘breaks’ in. Similarly, while watching TV, why not get up and move around during the commercial break – by doing so you will give your body a break from doing nothing not to mention you’ll reduce your chances of being duped into buying random health and fitness gadgets like the Slender Shaper.

Also, if you are on the Twitter social network, you may be interested in following Twittercize, which is run by freelance writer and fellow health enthusiast Ron S. Doyle of Colorado. Via Twitter, Twittercize provides a way to “Get fit, one tweet at a time!” In short, every hour Twittercize provides all its followers (now exceeding 3000) a unique exercise which should be performed for 1 minute. And these aren’t your old and boring push-ups and crunches! Instead you’ll be performing “cubicle cross-overs”, “undercover kegels” or “kung-fu donkeys” among many other creatively named exercises.

According to the aforementioned study, it is quite plausible that such a small change to your everyday routine made possible by interventions such as Twittercize, may just help improve your health.

However, it must also be mentioned that interrupting sedentary time should be a complementary health strategy to also increasing your levels of moderate-intensity physical activity – especially if weight management is your goal.

Now that you are done reading this post – why not do a minute of Long Distance Flamingoes!


Healy, G., Dunstan, D., Salmon, J., Cerin, E., Shaw, J., Zimmet, P., & Owen, N. (2008). Breaks in Sedentary Time: Beneficial associations with metabolic risk Diabetes Care, 31 (4), 661-666 DOI: 10.2337/dc07-2046

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2 Response to "Take a break from being lazy – your health depends on it!"

  1. Ron S. Doyle Said,

    Great post, Peter. Thanks very much for the Twittercize shout-out.

    I recently received a message from a "twittercizer" who told me that she started out with my routine, which encouraged her to visit the gym, which led to losing 10 pounds. It just took a little motivation and inspiration to get her there!

    Posted on July 2, 2009 at 5:55 PM

  2. Peter Janiszewski, PhD (Cand.), MSc Said,

    Thanks for the comment Ron.

    Great to hear Twittercize is having a positive impact on the health of its followers. It is indeed true that small steps are the way to start becoming physically active - for many the idea of moving from completely sedentary to working out daily is simply too much of a hurdle to overcome.

    Start with a few twittercizes throughout the day, or taking the stairs when you can, and next thing you know you are crossing teh FINISH line at the Boston marathon!

    Posted on July 2, 2009 at 9:01 PM


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We are PhD students in the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. Our research focuses on the relationships between obesity, physical activity, and health risk. This blog is our attempt to consider the many "cures" for obesity that we read about on a daily basis. Enjoy.


The opinions expressed here belong only to Peter and Travis and do not reflect the views of any organization. Any medical discussion on this page is intended to be of a general nature only. This page is not designed to give specific medical advice. If you have a medical problem you should consult your own physician for advice specific to your own situation.

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