Walking Breaks Improve Blood Sugar in Children

Family walking in a park
Family walking in a park
Walking breaks that interrupt sedentary behavior may help prevent obesity, diabetes.

Three-minute walking breaks that interrupt sedentary activities like television marathons can improve blood sugar in children, as compared with continuous sitting, according to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

“Interrupting a long period of sitting with a few minutes of moderate activity can have short-term benefits on a child’s metabolism,” study researcher Jack A. Yanovski, MD, PhD, of the NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), said in a press release.

“While we know getting 30 minutes or more of moderate intensity exercise each day improves children’s health and metabolism, small behavioral changes like taking short walking breaks can also yield some benefits.”

In the NIH-sponsored, randomized, crossover trial, 28 normal-weight children aged 7 to 11 years either sat continuously for 3 hours or took 3-minute breaks to walk on a treadmill every half hour during that period on 2 different days. Children also consumed a sugary soda-like drink before sitting so the researchers could examine how their bodies processed the sugar.

Blood sugar and insulin levels were measured before and after the experiment.

As compared with continuous sitting, taking breaks to walk led to a 32% lower insulin area under the curve (AUC; P<.001), 17% lower C-peptide AUC (P<.001) and 7% lower glucose AUC (P=.018).

Also, in the group that took walking breaks vs. continuous sitting, the researchers observed significantly lower insulin (P=.036) and free fatty acid concentrations (P=.009), according to mixed model results.

Participants’ appetites appeared to be unaffected by the additional exercise. When provided a lunchtime buffet meal after the researchers measured blood glucose levels, the types and amounts of foods selected did not differ significantly between children who took walking breaks and those who sat continuously (975 kcal vs. 963 kcal, respectively; P=.85).

“Sustained sedentary behavior after a meal diminishes the muscles’ ability to help clear sugar from the bloodstream,” study researcher Britni Belcher, PhD, of the National Cancer Institute,” said in a press release.

“That forces the body to produce more insulin, which may increase the risk for beta-cell dysfunction that can lead to the onset of type 2 diabetes. Our findings suggest that even short activity breaks can help overcome these negative effects, at least in the short term.”


  1. Belcher BR et al. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2015;doi:10.1210/jc.2015-2803.