Three Minute Exercise Breaks

Three-minute exercise benefits

People who sit for many hours at a desk, computer, or in front of the TV are at higher risk for health problems like obesity and other risk factors for heart disease, and a recent study finds that a three-minute break every 30 minutes can improve measures of blood sugar and blood sugar fluctuations.

The study participants used a simple timer that reminded them every 30 minutes to stop, get up and do some simple exercise like walking or stair climbing.  Compared to the control group, those who followed the 30-minute/3-minute regime had moderate improvements in levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and blood sugar, as well as fewer spikes in blood sugar over the course of the day, a result that may have come from better blood flow.

These short activity breaks, however, did not give any gains in overall glucose tolerance or fat in the muscles, suggesting that the 3-minute regime is not enough for major health improvements.  More exercise is, of course, better, but these results are encouraging, in that they show that even very small increases in exercise do have measurable benefits.

Personally, I (Nancy) found when trying to follow this protocol, that 30 minutes is not enough time to concentrate on any kind of work that requires focus, and for my own work, I prefer a one-hour/10-minute pattern that allows me to get serious work done.  However, if your work is a series of smaller jobs, like answering email, or if you are just sitting without giving attention to something, then the shorter sitting/walking alternation may be more doable.

People with depression and bipolar are often also struggling with weight gain and metabolic syndrome (high cholesterol, high blood sugar, high blood pressure) so these results could be important for many of our readers.  It is suggested that the very short work/exercise alteration studied here could “democratize” exercise, since the 3-minute exercise time is something that almost anyone can achieve.

– Nancy


Smith, JB, et al. Three weeks of interrupting sitting lowers fasting glucose and glycemic variability, but not glucose tolerance, in free-living women and men with obesity.   American Journal of Physiology—Endocrinology and Metabolism, July 27, 2021, online.