We know working long hours in the office has been linked to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.

In a long-term study, researchers found that among more than 1,900 people who worked more than 46 hours per week, 43 percent had been diagnosed with angina, coronary artery disease, heart failure, heart attack, high blood pressure or stroke. Although this study did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship between long hours at work and increased heart disease risk, there is concern about how long hours of sitting affects heart health.

So what can office workers do to combat these numbers? According to a new study, it starts with simply walking more.

Prolonged sitting is known to be associated with an increased risk of a cardiovascular disease, diabetes and death from all causes. It is well known that office workers are too sedentary — a big challenge to health by slowing the metabolism and affecting the way bodies control sugar levels, blood pressure and the breakdown of fat.

According to another report, more than half of the average person's waking hours are spent sitting — watching television, working at a computer or commuting. Even those who exercise up to an hour a day are at risk for cardiovascular disease with so much sitting.

These findings were taken from 47 studies that evaluated the health effects of sedentary behavior, adjusting for other types of activity from leisure-time activities to vigorous exercise. The studies showed that people who sat for prolonged periods of time had a higher risk of dying from all causes — even those who exercised regularly, but negative effects were even more pronounced in people who did little or no exercise.

Victims of our environment, we've taken a lot of activity out of the workplace, and we're sitting longer and longer, even eating lunch at our desks. To counteract our sedentary days, we are encouraged to use the stairs instead of taking an elevator, eat lunch away from our desks, and take a break from our computer every 30 minutes, perhaps walking to visit our colleagues rather than phoning or emailing them.

In a previous study, researchers from New Zealand's University of Otago found that when office workers took brisk walks for two minutes every half hour, they lowered their blood glucose and insulin levels but not their lipid levels. In a recent study, the same researchers showed that this walking plan also reduces triglyceride levels when measured in response to a meal consumed around 24 hours after starting the activity.

In this randomized crossover trial, 36 adults completed four two-day interventions:

  1. prolonged sitting
  2. prolonged sitting with 30 minutes of continuous walking at the end of Day 1
  3. sitting with two minutes of walking every 30 minutes
  4. a combination of continuous walking and regular activity breaks in 2 and 3 above.

Postprandial plasma triglyceride, nonesterified fatty acids, glucose and insulin responses were measured in venous blood over five hours on Day 2. The researchers found that short, regular walking breaks and 30 minutes of continuous physical activity especially the two combined may have the potential to improve workers' metabolic health.

According to study lead author Dr. Meredith Peddie of Otago's Department of Human Nutrition, the early study had failed to detect evidence that regular walking breaks affect lipid levels because the effect was not immediate, and the traditional 30-minute block of moderate to vigorous activity, while important, was not as effective as short bouts of activity throughout the day, particularly if maintained over months or years.