The “sitting disease” is real; you should make every effort to avoid this harbinger of ill health when at your computer.

But how often do you need to get up from your chair? And for how long?

It’s too simplistic to just say, “Get up from your chair every now and then to help offset the sitting disease.”

Many people, if not the vast majority, need more concrete guidelines.

Many want to know what the minimum amount of computer away-time is needed to help oppose the negative effects of prolonged sitting.

Columbia University exercise physiologists wanted to know, too.

Their research concluded that only five minutes of walking – done for every 30 minutes of sitting – could offset the harm of extended periods on one’s can.

For the study, the following variations were investigated:

  • One minute of walking for every 30 minutes of sitting
  • One minute after an hour
  • Five minutes after 30 minutes
  • Five minutes every hour
  • No walking.

The study subjects sat in a laboratory (either working on a laptop, with their phones or reading, and were provided food), getting up only for their prescribed variation – which was done on a treadmill or with a bathroom break.

The participants were watched to ensure they didn’t under- or overexercise.

Blood pressure and blood sugar were periodically taken.

After analysis, the researchers determined that the ideal variation was to get up every 30 minutes and walk for five.

This wasn’t by a short shot; it was by a long shot: It significantly lowered blood pressure and blood sugar.

However, a one-minute walking break every 30 minute also provided some benefits.

Unfortunately, walking even for five minutes every hour had no benefit.

What would be interesting is a study showing if there could be benefits of running on a treadmill, or doing some form of impact exercise, for five minutes every hour.

The study involved only 11 participants. Nevertheless, the results should give anyone pause who spends a lot of time sitting at a computer without budging.

Combating the Hassle of Remembering to Get Up Every 30 Minutes

Though there’s always the option of setting a timer, this can be problematic in that every time you return to your seat, you might then eventually start anticipating when the timer will sound.

Or, it may sound right when you’re about to start viewing a video, or when you’re in the middle of a busy computer task.

You can forget about timers and remembering to get up by using a treadmill desk.

I’ve been using one for 13 years – the same one, actually – and it’s amazing how 30 minutes can fly by walking while absorbed in computer activity.

My treadmill desk goes up to 4 mph, and the incline goes up to 15%.

If you can’t imagine doing complex computer work while walking, you can begin by standing at the treadmill desk and getting used to that first.

Then, you can set the speed to 0.5 mph and see how that works. Over time, your body and mind will get used to the idea of cognitive load while walking at 1.5 mph, even 2 mph.

You can also try faster speeds with light cognitive load or minimal mouse handling, such as watching videos or reading.

Lorra Garrick is a former personal trainer certified by the American Council on Exercise. At Bally Total Fitness she trained clients of all ages for fat loss, muscle building, fitness and improved health. 


Top image: ©Lorra Garrick