We all know by now how dangerous sedentary lifestyle can be. A rising number in conditions like obesity, diabetes and heart disease is due to the fact that many of us are spending too much time sitting down. But staying sedentary for a prolonged time raises the risk of serious health issues. Can we do anything about it? A study gives us some ideas.

Researchers in Finland have found that reducing sitting time by only 21 minutes each day can improve your health. [Read more The Surprising Mental Benefits of Common Self-Care Practices]

“This study shows that it is possible to reduce the sedentary time of people in a busy phase of life. […] This is important, because sedentary time tends to increase while we age. The effect was most visible during leisure time, where the sedentary time was already lower,” says first author of the study Dr. Arto Pesola, of the Neuromuscular Research Center at the University of Jyvaskyla in Finland.

Many studies have shown that prolonged sedentary time poses serious health hazards, raising the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and premature death. [Read more Yoga May Improve Arthritis Symptoms]

With office-based work becoming more prevalent in our modern society, sedentary lifestyle has become more common. We spend a lot of time being entertained by social media and streaming services.

A recent survey has shown that Americans spend an average of 13 hours per day sitting down.

However, not many studies have investigated whether it is possible to reduce sedentary time and whether the reduction will bring any health benefits for people who are already in good health.

The Finnish researchers set to examine just that.

For their study, the team recruited 133 office workers. The participants were divided into two groups – one group was given counseling on how to reduce their sedentary time, while the other group skipped the counseling. The participants were fitted with accelerometers to monitor their movement over the course of 1 year.

walking
Image: Creative commons

After 3 months, the participants in the counseling group reduced their sedentary time by 21 minutes per day. During the same time period, their fasting blood sugar levels significantly decreased as well.

According to the researchers, switching from sedentary to light activity can help enhance the process where your blood sugar is transported to the cells that need it.

At the one-year mark, the counseling group reduced their sitting time—just not to as large an extent. At that point, they were sitting about 8 minutes less per day than they were at the study onset.

At 12 months, the counseling group displayed even more health benefits: They maintained leg muscle mass, whereas 0.5 percent more muscle mass were lost by those in the control group. They also showed improvements in a cholesterol marker called Apolipoprotein B-to-Apolipoprotein A-1 ratio, which may signal a reduction in heart disease risk. [Read more Exercise may protect against cognitive decline]

So, the study revealed that it is in fact possible to reduce sitting time both at work and during leisure time. Participants, at baseline, spent around 5.6 hours at work sitting down and 3.8 hours during their leisure time.

However, after the counseling sessions, the subjects reduced the leisure time they spent sitting down every day by 21 minutes and spent more time in light-intensity physical activity and increased the number of breaks in-between sitting time.

Moreover, women were able to increase both light physical activity and the number of sitting breaks in the workplace. Men, on the other hand, failed to do so.

Read more Jogging for 30 minutes each day could add 9 years to your lifespan

“This study shows that it is possible to reduce the sedentary time of people in a busy phase of life. […] This is important, because sedentary time tends to increase while we age. The effect was most visible during leisure time, where the sedentary time was already lower,” says Dr. Pesola.

“This may reflect the demands of working life and that counseling targeted at individuals and their families is ineffective in changing the sitting time at work, at least in men,” he adds. “Instead, people may find more opportunities and freedom to reduce sedentary time and to participate in enjoyable family activities out of working hours.”

Reducing sitting time by just 21 minutes “may be beneficial for health in the long run,” he concludes

The study was published in the journal PLOS One.

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Salahuddin Ahmed

Salahuddin Ahmed

Founder & CEO at Azalea MedPapers
Salahuddin Ahmed is a freelance Medical writer, Tech writer and Blogger, who has been writing about Health and Technology for more than a decade. A former New York transplant, he now lives in his native Dhaka. He received a Bachelor's degree from the University of Louisiana and a diploma on eTechnology from NIIT, Dhaka. An avid reader and a movie buff, Salahuddin likes to spend his free time reading espionage novels and watching Film Noirs.

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