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So what can we do to avoid this, other than quitting our desk jobs and taking up nursing, hairdressing, waiting tables or other jobs that require us to be on our feet?
First, it’s important to note that exercise still has great merit. Because of its slow speed, a treadmill desk doesn’t provide any of the aerobic benefits of a workout. Patel’s “active couch potatoes” fared better than people who did not go to the gym.
That’s a message exercise advocates don’t want to get lost. “We know that if you exercise 40 to 60 minutes a day, you’re going to have a health benefit,” said Inigo San Millan, director of the Human Performance Laboratory at the University of Colorado Hospital’s Sports Medicine Clinic in Denver.
The researchers also have found that short activity breaks — as little as moving around the room a few minutes an hour — offsets much of the damage done by sitting. And whatever productivity is lost by being away from your desk is made up by increased efficiency once you return.
“People who get up and move around for five minutes every hour are every bit as productive as people who sit there for hours at a time,” Jensen said.
The same advice applies at home. If you’re surfing the net on the computer, Dunstan suggests, “take a break and do the dishes.” If you’re watching TV, get up and move around every 20 minutes.
Patel adds that this is good news for the millions of people who have not been able to get close to the recommended daily exercise levels. “The nice take-home message,” she said, “is that anything is better than nothing. Just getting up and moving at all is taking a big step in the right direction.”
Staff Writer Jeff Strickler contributed to this article.