“Move more at any intensity – the more the better,” say a quartet of researchers writing for The Conversation, explaining the results of their new study that looked that the effects of low-intensity normal movements on health and illness that we may have ceased doing after entering the 2010s.
These movements, they explain, could be as simple as the act of standing up from the couch, and walking over to the old corded phone affixed to the wall to answer a phone call.
Could the reduction in these simple acts be a contributing factor to rises in rates of metabolic diseases like cardiovascular disease, obesity, and type-2 diabetes?
The short answer is yes. Their study, which was a meta-analysis of 72 studies looked at what another, unrelated study called the SLOTH model, which stands for sleep, leisure, occupation, transportation, and home activities; essentially how much metabolic activity is expended in a day without purposeful exercise period.
The unrelated study charts a downfall in metabolic energy across the SLOTH metrics in many different nations in both the first and second world, and the researchers’ meta analysis found that things like blood sugar, lipid levels and even mortality rates can be improved simply by moving around — only as much as we did during the 1990s.
Anyone can do it
The modesty of the study is enough to infuriate a personal fitness trainer, as the scientists’ only goal was to see “what happens immediately to our bodies when we interrupt long periods of sitting; and long-term studies of thousands of people, which provide insight into the effects of light exercise over several years”.
Indeed, one might say something like, “If you’re sitting you’re dying,” as the simple the act of “interrupt[ing] long periods of sitting” with “doing twice as much light activity” was enough to cut your risk of premature death by almost 30%.
They note their limitations in that it’s self-reported activity data, which is always difficult to estimate, and it’s not clear if people didn’t move because they were ill, and that the conclusion should be more like, ill people who move around twice as much prevent their risk of dying from the illness by 30%.
However the results are striking because not only was premature death prevented, but postprandial blood-glucose levels by 17.5% and insulin levels by 25%, suggesting that moving around is a simple way to help reduce the metabolic burden of type-2 diabetes.
One of the researchers, Mark Hamer, is chair of a program called Exercise as Medicine, from Loughborough University Center of Sports Science, widely-considered the most prestigious and successful sports science department in the world for many years.
Loughborough U. was on to something similar to the researchers movement paper when the British National Health Service awarded them a grant to develop a public health initiative called “snactivities,” which encouraged small bite-sized activities during the working day to prevent obesity, increase heart and pulmonary health, and decrease the risk of developing metabolic disorders.
“To encourage people to be more physically active, and therefore improve their health, we need to make physical activity targets easy to achieve and sustainable over time,” said the program’s head Prof. Amanda Daley. “This study will establish if ‘snacktivity’ is a worthwhile approach to take in encouraging the public to be more active and to sit less throughout the day”.
Her colleague Hamer might have undermined the snacktivity approach, which also included a snacktivity app that would remind you to do something every hour or so, as instead of trying to help people achieve the NHS’ recommendation of 150 minutes of vigorous exercise every week, his study showed that 150 minutes of mere walking around and doing household chores is enough to create positive health benefits.