Many office workers spend the majority of an eight-hour day sitting at their desks. New research suggests sitting for six straight hours can impair vascular function.

But walking for just 10 minutes can reverse the damage. Jaume Padilla, assistant professor of nutrition and exercise physiology at the University of Missouri, says:

“It’s easy for all of us to be consumed by work and lose track of time, subjecting ourselves to prolonged periods of inactivity. However, our study found that when you sit for six straight hours, or the majority of an eight-hour work day, blood flow to your legs is greatly reduced. We also found that just 10 minutes of walking after sitting for an extended time reversed the detrimental consequences.”

For the study, researchers compared the vascular function of 11 healthy young men before and after a period of prolonged sitting.

Impaired Vascular Function

The findings show that blood flow in the popliteal, an artery in the lower leg, was greatly reduced after sitting at a desk for six hours. Researchers then had the participants take a short walk, and found that 10 minutes of self-paced walking could restore the impaired vascular function and improve blood flow.

“When you have decreased blood flow, the friction of the flowing blood on the artery wall, called shear stress, is also reduced,” Padilla says. “Moderate levels of shear stress are good for arterial health, whereas low levels of shear stress appear to be detrimental and reduce the ability of the artery to dilate. Dilation is a sign of vascular health. The more the artery can dilate and respond to stimuli, the healthier it is.”

Many workplaces are sedentary environments, and researchers say it’s important that people understand the effects of sitting on their vascular health. By breaking up desk time with a short walk, workers can offset the harm caused to vascular blood vessels.

“Studies have shown that sitting less can lead to better metabolic and cardiovascular health,” Padilla says. “However, more research is needed to determine if repeated periods of reduced vascular function with prolonged sitting lead to long-term vascular complications.”

Restaino, R. M., Holwerda, S. W., Credeur, D. P., Fadel, P. J. and Padilla, J. (2015) Impact of prolonged sitting on lower and upper limb micro- and macrovascular dilator function Experimental Physiology, 100: 829–838. doi: 10.1113/EP085238

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