Take the break

Deccan Chronicle.  | Sulogna Mehta

Lifestyle, Health and Wellbeing

Mini breaks at workplace every 30 minutes can improve metabolic health, say the experts

Photo used for representation

Office bosses usually frown whenever they find employees getting up from their workstation for a ‘chai’ break, chit-chat break, washroom break or missing from their chair on any other excuse.
Similarly, parents too get miffed when children get up from their study table frequently. The work culture in most places demands that employees remain seated for hours and stay glued to the monitor, ensuring that they do not ‘waste’ a single minute.

However, sitting continuously at your workstation for several hours and studying or working can be a sign of dedication but definitely not a coveted move for your health. The covid pandemic has aggravated the postural indolence of remaining sedentary as most people including children and young students are working or attending classes online from home respectively, seated for hours together at one place.
Studies have shown that such long hours of sitting without much movement of the limbs adversely affects metabolic health, and enhances risk of high blood sugar and high cholesterol over time. Rather getting up and taking a three-minute break every 30 minutes for moving around may downplay the impacts of sitting at a stretch.

Importance of mini-breaks

A small-scale study involving 16 middle-aged, white-collar workers at high risk for Type 2 diabetes, was recently undertaken by researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. The study, published in August in The American Journal of Physiology: Endocrinology and Metabolism, tested the outcome in office workers who took mini breaks every 30 minutes. Also, a subsequent article detailing the study was published in Sunday Life magazine within the Sun-Herald and The Sunday Age this month.

It was found that those who took active three-minute breaks every half an hour, displayed signs of better metabolic health such as lower fasting blood sugar levels, a stablised sugar level and the amount of beneficial HDL cholesterol also rose in their bloodstreams. Those who did not take breaks displayed ongoing problems with insulin resistance, blood sugar control and cholesterol levels.


Expert opinion:

‘Breaks can boost metabolism’

Dr A Mythili, senior endocrinologist and founder secretary of Diabetic Child Society, Visakhapatnam

“The decisive factor behind lifestyle diseases is obesity. It is the root cause of slow metabolism, high blood pressure, insulin deficiency, diabetes mellitus and an array of other ailments like cardio-vascular issues and stroke.
Four habits that can lead to obesity include a high fat, high calorie diet, lack of physical activity or exercise, stress and inadequate sleep or faulty sleep patterns.
The breaks taken in between one’s sedentary desk work can help boost metabolism, lower the chances of putting on more weight if they take a walk, stretch, do some light exercises every half an hour. So indirectly, it can lower the risk of ailments like diabetes and hypertension.”

‘Human body needs movement’

Dr Priyalini Sarkar, senior physiotherapist, Healing Touch Physiotherapy Clinic & Andhra Pradesh state coordinator (Women’s Cell) of Indian Association of Physiotherapy (IAP)

“Our human body needs movement every 30 minutes once. It increases the blood flow, metabolism and makes systems of the body work better. If we keep our body without movements for too long, muscle spasms and stiffness happen, the visceral fat increases and the posture of the spine gets disturbed.
In seated posture, the leg muscles do not contract much and consume little sugar from our bloodstreams. They also do not release biochemical substances that help break down fatty acids in the blood and thus it builds up blood sugar and cholesterol in our bloodstreams.
During short three to five minute work breaks, one can do neck stretches, body stretches, walk around a little, drink a glass of water, blink eyes, do some deep breathing, gaze at greenery. These small measures can enable vigorous blood pumping and boost the metabolism. The stiffened body also gets a chance to relax, rejuvenate and carry on the work with more focus.”

‘Standing and working is still better’

Dr Triveni Reddy, internal medicine consultant, Care Hospital

“It is absolutely necessary to take short breaks from the computer system at least every hour as it is proven that constantly sitting and staying glued to the computer monitor or books and files lead to musculoskeletal problems, spasms, spondylitis, stiffness of muscles, weaker veins, lower back ache and eye strain.
Standing and working is still better than continuously sitting as the latter entails risk of blood clots in the lower limb and blood circulation is hampered. Abroad, as part of office ergonomics, special height adjustable desks or workstations are being developed in the US where employees can stand and operate the computer.”

Activities to be undertaken for mini breaks

* Set an alarm to remind yourself to get up every half an hour.

* Download a smart-phone app or wear a fitness band to register steps taken and calories burnt

* Stand up and do neck and body stretching exercises

* Do deep breathing exercises

* Walk around 75-100 steps, climb stairs or do spot jogging or jumping jacks

* Go and get yourself a glass of water or some health drink

* Blink the eyes and gaze at some greenery or look outside the window