I talk a lot about moving our bodies to improve our mental and physical health. But I don’t always talk about how physical activity improves our health, so I thought I’d do a couple posts that dive into the science a little bit further.
Regulating Blood Sugar and Insulin Levels
Physical activity is particularly important for blood sugar regulation and ensuring our hormones, such as insulin, can do their jobs to keep us healthy. Many people have what is called insulin resistance, which occurs when insulin is adequately produced by the pancreas in response to increases in blood glucose after eating but the cells and peripheral tissues of the body are insensitive to the increases in insulin, therefore not allowing for the shuttling of blood glucose into the cells and tissues of the body where it can be metabolized.
When cells can’t take up the elevated levels of glucose circulating in the blood, such as after eating, blood sugar levels remain elevated and that’s what starts to wreak havoc on our health. This insulin resistance is linked to type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and dyslipidemia. Obviously, none of these are conditions we want to have, so to reduce our risk and prevent insulin resistance, it is recommended that we eat a healthy diet (healthy as in low-glycemic and low-sugar) and engaging in 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity each week.
Sitting Less and Moving More
But what is alarming is that exercising for 150 minutes a week doesn’t compensate for long durations of sitting throughout the day, which most people do. For example, people who exercise regularly but still sit for 13 hours a day have similar insulin and lipid profiles as individuals who sit for 14 hours per day and don’t exercise at all. Ay yi yi!
But what is cool, and relatively simple, is that increasing low level physical activity throughout the day and breaking up long bouts of sitting with a little bit of movement can significantly improve insulin sensitivity and blood lipid levels. This can be done by standing and walking a bit more throughout the day.
Suggestions for Sitting Less and Moving More at Work
This can be achieved by standing more at work, such as with stand-up workstations, standing during phone calls, or setting computer reminders to get up and stand for chunks of time throughout the day. Also, adding in a bit of walking whenever we get the opportunity is even more beneficial, such as walking before and after work (or to work!), parking further from the door or getting off a stop early if we take public transportation and walk the remaining distance, taking walks during morning and afternoon breaks and at lunchtime, pacing while on the phone, or engaging in walking meetings with colleagues and clients (check out this post from CNN on walking meetings by clicking here).
Walking outside during the course of the work day has the added benefits of getting in some sunshine, fresh air, and a dose of nature – just seeing grass and trees has been shown to reduce stress and improve cognitive function. Research has shown that these types of breaks actually improve productivity, another good reason to make it a daily practice.
Walking and movement also help with our other systems as well, including our cardiovascular, neurological, and digestive systems and it helps with pain management, whether from migraines, arthritis, fibromyalgia, headaches, low back pain, or any number of chronic or persistent pain conditions.
It All Boils Down To….
The take home message here is that even if you exercise on a regular basis (and especially if you don’t!), sitting less and moving more throughout your day will do wonders for your health.
What are your thoughts?
As always, thanks for reading my post! If you want more info on how movement nourishes your mind, body and spirt, check out this post. For my thoughts on Fitbits and activity trackers and how they help us to move more, check out this post.
(note: the Fitbit link is an affiliate link for Amazon).
References for my nerd friends
Duvivier, B.M., Schaper, N.C., Bremers, M.A., van Crombrugge, G., Menheere, P.P., Kars, M., & Savelberg, H.H. (2013). Minimal intensity physical activity (standing and walking) of longer duration improves insulin action and plasma lipids more than shorter periods of moderate to vigorous exercise (cycling) in sedentary subjects when energy expenditure is comparable. PLoS One, 8(2), e55542. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0055542
McArdle, D., Katch, F.I., & Katch, V.L. (2013). Sports and exercise nutrition. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott, Williams, & Wilkins.