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Diabetes at work: Take frequent walking breaks to control blood sugar

Diabetes Care, Lowering Blood Sugar

A sedentary lifestyle increases the risk of Type 2 diabetes. In the United States over the past 50 years, one major contributing factor to the decrease in physical activity is the rise in the number of employees who work at a job that keeps them sitting for long periods of time. A new study finds an easy way to help gain health benefits – taking frequent walking breaks around the office.

A study by Louisiana State University last year found that the average American employee burns 100 fewer calories on the job than they did just 50 years ago. Technology can be partly to blame, as is the shift from agricultural and manufacturing jobs to mostly office work. Expending fewer calories can lead to obesity, a risk factor for developing Type 2 diabetes which is an excess of glucose in the blood (or blood sugar).

More recently, a study published in the journal Diabetes Care found that all it takes to reduce glucose and insulin levels in diabetics is scheduling a walking break every 20 minutes, instead of staying seated all day.

David Dunstan PhD, a professor at Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute in Australia, and colleagues selected 19 overweight adults who were sedentary and asked them to sit for seven hours at a time for three separate days in a laboratory setting while having blood sugar and insulin levels sampled hourly. After the first two hours, the subjects drank a 763 calorie drink high in sugar and fat.

On the first day, the volunteers sat the entire seven hours reading, watching TV or working on a computer. The second day, they took a two-minute leisurely walk every 20 minutes following the caloric beverage. The last day, they took similar breaks, but with more vigorous activity.

During the days when the subjects were able to get up from sitting every 20 minutes, blood sugar rises after the ingestion of sugar rose from 90 mg/dL (on average) to only about 126 mg/dL. This is compared to an average increase to 144 mg/dL when remaining sedentary the entire day. While vigorous activity reduced blood sugar more (30 percent), even light activity was beneficial, reducing the rise in glucose by an average of 24%.

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The results for insulin levels were similar.

Large glucose and insulin spikes following a meal are linked to a greater risk of heart disease and diabetes. Muscle contractions help take up glucose out of the blood stream and into the muscle. "When we sit, our muscles are in a state of disuse and they're not contracting and helping our body to regulate many of the body's metabolic processes," Dr. Dunstan said.

A previous study by the University of Queensland also found that prolonged sitting increases levels of C-reactive protein, an inflammatory marker linked to a higher risk of diabetes and blocked arteries.

"What we have at the present is consensus ... that we should be looking at ways to minimize that exaggerated response (of insulin and glucose) after meals," said Dr. Dunstan.

Here are some tips for getting more physical activity during the work day:

• Wear a pedometer and daily set a goal to increase the number of steps you take each day.
• Set your computer or watch alarm to go off every 15 to 20 minutes. At that time, get up and walk around the office for two minutes, then return to your desk. You can accumulate papers for delivering to co-workers, fill a water bottle, or visit someone for a friendly “good morning.”
Take the stairs when you can, instead of an elevator or escalator.
• Stand and step in place while on the telephone.
• Take a walking break at lunch instead of sitting in the lounge. Instead of having a meeting at a conference table, suggest a walking meeting.
• Park your car a little further away from the front door to get in extra steps at the beginning and ending of the workday.
• Remember that a sedentary life does not only pertain to the workplace. At home, take a walk after dinner or play outside with your children instead of sitting in front of the television.

Source Reference:
David W. Dunstan, PhD et al. “Breaking Up Prolonged Sitting Reduces Postprandial Glucose and Insulin Responses” Diabetes Care, February 28, 2012. doi:10.2337/dc11-1931

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons