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Taking breaks for physical activity may benefit children’s long-term health

109320999_8b61257d14_zHere's an eye-opening statistic: Children in the United States spend on average 6 hours per day sitting or reclining. As we head into the fall and winter months, it's likely that the shorter, darker days and chilly weather will only add to our kids being more sedentary.

National exercise standards advocate for children getting at least 30 minutes of exercise daily to curb the risk of obesity, diabetes and other conditions. But for those days when achieving this goal isn't possible, new research shows that short activity breaks can help offset a lack of exercise.

In the study (subscription required), researchers invited 28 healthy, normal-weight children to visit the National Institutes of Health on two separate occasions. During the first visit, participants were randomly assigned to two groups. One group watched TV, read or engaged in other sedentary activities for three hours; the other group alternated sitting with three minutes of moderate-intensity walking on a treadmill every 30 minutes for the three-hour period. On the return visit, the children switched groups. Each one took an oral glucose tolerance test at both visits. According to an NIH release:

On the days they walked, the children had blood glucose levels that were, on average, 7 percent lower than on the day they spent all 3 hours sitting. Their insulin levels were 32 percent lower.   Similarly, blood levels of free fatty acids — high levels of which are linked to type 2 diabetes — were also lower, as were levels of C-peptide, an indicator of how hard the pancreas is working to control blood sugar.

After the sessions, the children were allowed to choose their lunch from food items on a buffet table. Based on the nutrient content of each item, the researchers were able to calculate the calorie and nutrient content of what each child ate. The short, moderate-intensity walking sessions did not appear to stimulate the children to eat more than they ordinarily would, as the children consumed roughly the same amounts and kinds of foods after each of the sessions.

The study authors concluded that, if larger studies confirm their findings, interrupting periods of prolonged sitting with regular intervals of moderate-intensity walking might be an effective strategy for reducing children’s risk of diabetes and heart disease.

While regular walking breaks may not excite the average child, three-minute dance parties or stomping on bubbles are other options for getting kids out of their seat and moving.

Previously: Pediatrics group issues new recommendations for building strong bones in kids, Understanding the impact of sedentary behavior on children's health and British government urging toddlers to 'get physical'
Photo by Miika Silfverberg

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