Are this year’s lockdown and ongoing shutdowns from COVID-19 causing you to feel a bit stir-crazy?

If you have been privileged to get back to work, at home or the office, do you feel like you are going to be stuck there forever?

Has this year’s quarantine caused you to put on a few pounds and feel lethargic and out of shape?

If so, then you may not be taking enough walking breaks throughout the day. A 2016 article published in the "International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity" found that walking five minutes every hour increased self-perceived energy and boosted mood, while decreasing fatigue and food cravings. Not only that, but the short walk breaks seemed to improve cognitive performance and focus — a real win/win situation for employees and employers in this troubling time.

Since 80% of Americans fell short of completing 30 minutes of continuous exercise most days— even before COVID — it is welcome news to discover that taking just five minutes each hour to complete a low intensity activity (in this case a walk around the house or office) can still bring so many positive health benefits.

Since there are numerous studies showing that sitting for extended periods of time regularly increases a person’s risk for diabetes, heart disease and other metabolic damage, numerous research groups have undertaken to discover what it takes to offset the dangers of too much sitting. One such study, performed by the University of Utah School of Medicine, found that walking just two minutes(!) each hour lowered the risk of dying from the aforementioned diseases by 33%. And that is great news considering that those are also the pre-existing conditions for complications from COVID-19.

According to some research estimates, physical activity in the workplace has been reduced by 20% since 1960, and is predicted to worsen to 35% by 2035, with office workers estimated to spend 65-75% of their working day sitting. With the rash of new studies showing the detriment of too much sitting — as well as the benefit that comes from interrupting that sitting at least every hour — we must ask, “Is it mentally or physically healthy to be seated for such a large percentage of the work day?”

The research from the "International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity" that we mentioned earlier doesn’t suggest so. In that study they took 30 healthy, but sedentary, participants who were recruited to complete three different trials on three separate days.

The first trial involved completing uninterrupted sitting with no physical activity (aside from the normal interruptions such as using the restroom) over a six-hour period. The second trial included the same uninterrupted sitting; however, the participants performed a single bout of moderate-intensity physical activity for 30 minutes in the morning beforehand. Lastly, the third trial had the participants taking five-minute physical activity breaks each hour they were sitting.

And it was with this third method that participants reported having the highest energy and mood levels, less fatigue and proved to perform better cognitively when compared to the other trials. Interestingly, those who were more active throughout their day also proved to have a lower appetite between meals and were less likely to eat frequent snacks throughout the day, causing them to consume fewer unnecessary calories. So it is a good technique for weight maintenance, too.

While longer and harder exercise sessions — at least 15 to 30 minutes — are needed to train the heart and build physical fitness, these studies show that simply getting up and moving a little bit every hour pays great dividends to your health, mood, and energy levels.

So while we would love to see you here, at the Bradley Wellness Center, taking your exercise — you can still take your first steps to a healthier you by standing up every hour and taking a short walk. You will be glad you did.

Thomas Morrison is fitness coordinator at Bradley Wellness Center in Dalton.

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