Three-Minute Workouts Can Counter the Negative Effects of Sitting

by Kevin Gray

Sitting is a part of life. Many of us sit during work, and all of us sit to eat, watch TV and relax — you might even be sitting while reading this right now. But too much sitting is associated with an increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity. That’s why we often hear scary admonishes about how sitting is the new smoking.

To combat the negative effects of prolonged sitting, you could try a standing desk, but constant standing isn’t the only answer, and the desks may be overrated anyway. Fortunately, a new study shows standing up and moving for just three minutes every half-hour might be enough to decrease the harm caused by sitting too much.

The study, which was published in the Endocrinology and Metabolism journal, looked at how interrupting sitting with movement impacts fasting glucose and glycemic variability.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, fasting glucose is the amount of sugar in one’s blood. A normal blood glucose level usually ranges between 70 and 99mg/dL, while higher values could indicate pre-diabetes or diabetes. Glycemic variability simply refers to changes in blood glucose levels over a certain period.

In the study, researchers enlisted 16 middle-aged office workers with obesity who had sedentary jobs. Over a three-week period, half the participants maintained their usual routines, while the other half wore a monitor that alerted them to move for three minutes every half-hour. After the test period, the control group exhibited the same problems as before: high blood sugar and high cholesterol. Those who moved more during the workday (walked, climbed stairs, performed bodyweight squats) exhibited lower blood sugar levels and blood sugar variability, and they also showed higher levels of HDL, commonly known as good cholesterol. The more someone moved during the day, the better their stats.

The metabolic changes were modest, but the study was only three weeks. Researchers note that peppering these regular activity breaks into your usually sedentary day could have even greater effects when performed over a longer time.


Below are eight ways to build three minutes of exercise into your day. Mix and match between light cardio and bodyweight strength training, and you’ll keep the downsides of sitting at bay. The best part: These exercises can easily be performed at home or in the office with no equipment.


Requiring nothing more than a little space to move, jumping jacks are one of the best ways to build some cardio into a short time. They can be performed right next to your desk. Do as many as you can fit into three minutes, taking short rests as needed, and enjoy the quick cardiovascular workout.


If you have stairs in your home or office, spend a few minutes jogging up and walking down. No stairs? That’s OK. Instead, you can march in place with high knees.


A quick walk around the house or office gets your blood moving before you go back to your chair. Maybe you’ll even come back with a fresh cup of coffee.


Or however many pushups you can do. Try 3 sets of 5, 10 or 20 depending on your proficiency. You can always drop down to your knees to make the exercise easier.


Strengthen that core, and you’ll add stability to your movements and sit more comfortably at your desk. Drop down onto your hands and toes, like you’re about to perform a pushup, and hold it. Alternatively, you can perform planks on your forearms (and knees, if needed) for a bit more support.


Stand up, head outside and go to the mailbox. It’s an easy task, but one that gets you moving. The fresh air is an invigorating bonus.

CLICK TO TWEET THIS ARTICLE > Sedentary job? Protect your health by getting up every 30 minutes. via @myfitnesspal #myfitnesspal


Air squats work your legs and your heart. Do as many as you can in three minutes, resting as needed. If you want to add some weight to your workout, grab a couple of light dumbbells, a kettlebell or even your laptop.


If you’re at home, spend three minutes doing dishes, folding the laundry or picking up the kids’ toys. If you’re at the office, take a trip to the supply closet or go talk to a colleague in person rather than sending the usual email. All options let you stay upright and active before going back to your desk.


Prolonged sitting is a fact of modern life, but it’s also dangerous if not interrupted by regular movement. Consider three minutes per half-hour a minimum recommendation for daily activity. Longer stretches of heart rate-raising exercise are still recommended to help stave off serious conditions like obesity, high blood pressure and heart disease, so do what you can to infuse your day with movement.

To become more active, try setting a simple goal to increase (and track) your daily steps. Go to “Plans” in the MyFitnessPal app and choose a 28-day step plan to learn tips to boost your activity. 


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