Getting up and moving around for as little as one minute during sedentary periods may help improve cardio-metabolic health in adults, according to a study published online in the European Heart Journal.

In the first study of it’s kind, Genevieve N. Healy, MPH, of the School of Population Health at University of Queensland, Australia, and colleagues studied the total amount of time spent sitting down, breaks in sedentary time and various indicators for heart and metabolic disease risk in a large representative multiethnic population.

“The benefits of regular participation in moderate-to-vigorous intensity exercise are well accepted scientifically and by the general public,” Healy said in a press release. “However, the potential adverse impact of prolonged sitting, which is something that we do on average for more than half of our day, is only just being realized.”

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She and colleagues measured cardio-metabolic and inflammation indicators in 4,757 adults aged 20 years or older who wore an accelerometer and participated in the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 2003 to 2006.

They found that even among people who engaged in moderate-to-vigorous exercise, prolonged sedentary periods were associated with larger waist circumferences and lower HDL cholesterol levels, as well as higher C-reactive protein levels and triglycerides (P for trends <0.05).

People who took more breaks during long periods of sedentary time, however, had smaller waists and lower C-reactive protein levels (P for trends <0.05). On average, people who took the most breaks had a waist circumference 4.1 cm smaller than those took the least (top 25% vs. bottom 25%).

“It is likely that regular breaks in prolonged sitting time could be readily incorporated into the working environment without any detrimental impact on productivity, although this still needs to be determined by further research,” Healy said.

Some practical tips the researchers proposed for encouraging movement in office-based workplaces include:

  • Walking to speak with colleagues instead of calling or emailing;
  • Have standing meetings, or allocating time for breaks to get up and move during meetings;
  • Positioning bathrooms on different levels so employees walk further;
  • Moving trashcans and printers to a centralized location that everyone must walk to; Taking the stairs instead of the elevator;
  • Standing up to take phone calls.

“Our research highlights the importance of considering prolonged sedentary time as a distinct health-risk behavior that warrants explicit advice in future public health guidelines,” the researchers wrote.

The researchers theorized that population-wide reductions in sedentary behavior could substantially help prevent CVD, but acknowledged that further evidence is needed to establish a causal relationship between the two.