When Battling Obesity, Docs Take It One Step At A Time

Jan 19, 2016

University of Pittsburgh researchers say light exercise could help prevent obesity-related illnesses, such as heart attack, stroke and diabetes.
Credit Alex / Flickr

Replacing sitting with light housework or a stroll may be the new recommendation for severely obese adults looking to reduce their risk of heart attack, stroke and diabetes.

That’s what a University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health-led team found after a week long study tracking 927 patients before their weight-loss surgery.

According to Wendy King, associate professor of epidemiology at Pitt and the study’s lead author, adults with severe obesity often have difficulty following the national guidelines to participate in at least 30 minutes per day of moderate to vigorous activity for health benefits. Replacing sedentary activity with low-intensity physical activity may be easier to implement, King said. 

“Not to say they shouldn’t be participating in moderate, vigorous physical activity," King said.

The group of people studied was very inactive, with only one-third of adults participating in at least 10 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity at a time, according to King.

The research team used activity monitors to count the strides of the participants and looked at all the minutes they were awake. King and her colleagues then counted any period of 10 minutes or longer without steps as being “sedentary time.” Finally, the team added up all the minutes in the sedentary bouts throughout the day to get the total amount of sedentary time.

According to the study, for every hour the participants spent with 10 minutes of sedentary activity, the odds of having diabetes increased by 15 percent. The likelihood of elevated blood pressure rose by 14 percent and their waist circumference was, on average, half an inch larger after adjusting for factors such as age, gender and smoking status.

The results also determined that future research should consider how long a period of inactivity is relevant in terms of health benefits.

“In this study we found that measuring sedentary time as at least 10 minutes or longer in bouts had a stronger association with the health outcomes of cardiovascular health and metabolic health,” King said.

King said that the study’s findings could be useful to clinicians helping their patients increase their activity level.

“Instead of telling patients you have to go to the gym and exercise 30 minutes a day, trying to help them think about taking sedentary breaks every hour, making sure you go up and down a flight of stairs or every time you have to talk to a coworker, you walk into their office instead of using e-mail,” she said.

King said a randomized clinical trial would be the next step in order to determine if a change in sedentary behavior would have improvements in cardiovascular metabolic outcomes, since people don’t tend to change their own behaviors without intervention.

Healthcare coverage on 90.5 WESA is made possible in part by a grant from the Jewish Healthcare Foundation.