Sitting and other sedentary behaviors may cause more health complications than smoking. But is sitting all day truly bad for you? In this COVID-19 pandemic era of increased remote working and long hours spent often sitting stationary at desks, people are at higher risk of negative health outcomes.
Sitting for extended periods can increase insulin resistance.
Intermittent light-intensity walking improves muscle contraction and insulin sensitivity.
Light-intensity walking breaks from prolonged sitting decrease post-eating sugar levels better than simply interrupting sitting with standing.
Additional research can evaluate further benefits from short walking breaks throughout your deskbound day.
If consequences such as insulin resistance, diabetes, or heart problems result from too much sitting, it doesn’t sound healthy. A meta-analysis by Buffey et al. suggests sitting indeed increases a person’s risks and may provide insight into why taking a walk rather than a nap after eating may help boost your overall health.
Napping vs. walking after a meal?
How much daily time is spent on your rump definitely can have consequences. The longer one spends sitting, and less time one activates muscles and burns calories, the more overweight one is, the more likely they are to have insulin resistance (higher risk of type 2 diabetes).
Many studies have shown improvements in various outcomes, including blood glucose levels, triglycerides, weight, and blood pressure, by breaking up long periods in the same position or posture, simply with intermittent standing or light-intensity walking. To what degree one needs to exercise or how much sitting or laying down equates to increased risk varies from person to person. But if you spend all day sitting, taking a nap after a meal may further worsen your disease risk.
Buffey et al. found positive evidence that light walking intermittently throughout one’s day rather than remaining sitting all day can improve health outcomes in people with risk factors of type 2 diabetes. Additionally, those overweight and with increased abdominal fat, even if not carrying excess pounds, may improve outcomes without the need for medication interventions. Imagine if just walking rather than taking a nap could prevent you from needing to take medicine daily.
Health risks of inactivity
Too much sedentary behavior, spending excess time seated, laying down, or otherwise not engaging muscles, increases the risk of:
- Heart disease.
- Heart attack.
- High blood pressure.
Studies demonstrate the benefits of light walking
Buffey et al.’s meta-analysis evaluated 7 crossover studies and analyzed several parameters. They wanted to see if, when compared to sitting, intermittent light walking or standing made a bigger impact on health outcomes.
Findings showed that:
- Standing intermittently for a few short minutes every 20-30 minutes could minimally improve blood sugars after eating. However, this had minimal to no effect on insulin levels or systolic blood pressure.
- Light intermittent walking throughout the day showed greater improvements in post-eating blood sugars, as well as improvements in insulin use. There was no difference in systolic blood pressure compared to sitting or intermittently standing.
- Though researchers clearly state that additional research is needed, they feel that the study provides evidence that one may gain long-term control of blood sugar spikes and drops after eating (post-prandial) simply by standing intermittently or, better yet, light walking intermittently.
Exercise vs. Inactivity
Research repeatedly demonstrates how beneficial exercise is, though just how much per individual varies. However, we do know that inactivity alone leads to at least 9% of early deaths worldwide, and that alone should help you select a walk over a nap.
Go for a walk, don’t nap after meals
Sedentary behaviors are associated with negative health results. Behaviors such as sitting, lying down, or even partly reclining for long periods constitute sedentary choices. But this behavior doesn’t just mean inactive people. It also involves a complex mix of emotions, mental states, neural transmitters, and more.
Intermix the stress of busy lives, screentime on phones, computers, and other stimulating technology, and combine that with a lack of physical activity. This phenomenon has led to more and more people developing an increased risk of metabolic-related diseases.
People live sedentary lives for various reasons, including
- Arthritis or other painful conditions.
- Work at a desk all day (remotely or otherwise).
- Other underlying medical conditions, such as asthma or depression.
- Poor access to safe places to exercise or be outside.
- Personality and individual preferences.
- Increased use of technology – computers, TVs, video consoles, smartphones.
But the choice to improve one’s health may be as simple as opting for a walk, not a nap.
The study by Buffey et al. doesn’t directly address taking a nap vs. going for a walk and the effects this activity has on blood sugars after meals, insulin levels, or other parameters. However, it discusses the difference between sitting all day long vs. sitting interrupted by short periods of walking at a slow pace for a few minutes every 20-30 minutes. The study evaluated outcome measures and found that those who exercised vs. those who sat all day long had improved blood sugars and insulin levels. While not a direct leap, it isn’t hard to assume that taking a nap vs. taking a light walk after eating increases your overall daily exercise and blood circulation. Consistently walking after a meal may reduce your risk of suffering harmful health effects.
Living a sedentary lifestyle means those who sit all day are different than those who fail to participate in moderate to vigorous physical exercise. The difference reveals itself in changes in metabolism and other outcomes over time. Taking a walk after eating decreases your sitting time and provides the added benefit of engaging your muscles.
Your risk of health consequences remains high even if you do the recommended daily 30 minutes of physical activity. You remain at increased risk if you spend the other 23.5 hours a day laying down flat, reclining, or sitting. Your duration of exercise, activity, or not staying stationary matters. So, take that walk, and save your sleep for bedtime.