Many of us in the baby boomer generation fondly recall the 1960s sitcom “Gomer Pyle, USMC.” The television series starred Jim Nabors as a Marine trainee named Gomer Pyle and Frank Sutton as his short-fused drill sergeant, Sgt. Carter. As I recall, in nearly every episode, there was a scene with Sgt. Carter yelling “Pyle! Move it! Move it!” at the top of his lungs as Gomer Pyle was bumbling his way through military exercises. Check it out on YouTube; they don’t make comedy like that anymore.
The TV sitcom catch-phrase “Move it! Move it!” can also characterize a recent phenomenon encouraging all of us sedentary office workers to break up prolonged sitting with intermittent standing or walking. Hardly a day goes by without an article in a medical journal or other publication about the health concerns associated with prolonged sitting. Some of the health risks include increased risk of diabetes, reduced ability to burn fat, possible increased risk of cancer, greater risk of premature death and a multitude of musculoskeletal problems including low back pain.
A recent study published in Diabetes Care suggests that interrupting prolonged sitting with intermittent brief periods of standing or light exercise can lower your blood sugar. Participants in this study were assigned to three groups: Sitting only, sitting punctuated by five minutes of standing every 30 minutes, and sitting punctuated by five minutes of walking on a treadmill every 30 minutes. The participants ate a standardized breakfast and lunch, and blood tests were obtained frequently to test blood sugar after meals.
The results showed blood sugar was reduced by 34 percent when sitting was interrupted by standing and by 28 percent when sitting was interrupted by walking, compared with the same measurement after continuous sitting. This study suggests that people with sedentary jobs and sedentary lifestyles should get up and move around frequently in order to lower blood sugar and possibly avoid diabetes.
Here are some possible solutions to avoiding prolonged sitting:
- Reduce your sitting time to fewer than three hours per day
- Watch television less than two hours per day
- Use a standing desk at work or home
- Set a timer for reminders to take standing or movement breaks at work
- Stand to make phone calls
- Walk to perform errands whenever possible
- Make physical activities like walking or playing at a park a family event
- Use the stairs whenever possible
- Wear or use an activity tracker
Get up and get out there. “Move it! Move it!” to improve your health.
Sources: AceFitness.org, NEJM Journal Watch; February 15, 2016; Vol. 36, No. 4
Myron Leinwetter is the medical director for quality improvement, disease management, care coordination and medical policy at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas. He is board certified in family medicine. He retired from BCBSKS in September 2017.